Legislative To-Do List For 2012

Steve Adubato formulates a legislative wish list he'd like New Jersey politicians to deliver on in the coming year.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker.

Sticking with the theme of this month’s issue, here’s my list of 10 things state legislators (in cooperation, we hope, with Governor Chris Christie) must do in 2012:

1. Learn to compromise: It’s the right thing to do for New Jersey residents. Yes, it’s a crazy concept, but legislators, particularly Democrats, should keep it in mind in 2012. (Our strong-willed governor should keep this in mind as well.) 

2. Increase the gas tax. Raising any tax is like touching the political third rail, but our roads and bridges are crumbling and we need a stable source of funding to avoid a potential catastrophe involving New Jersey motorists. The Feds aren’t sending any more big national transportation grants to the state.  We are going to have to do this on our own. The fairest approach is to charge those who use our roads. I know there is an effort to borrow billions for much-needed transportation projects, but I say pass a gas-tax increase this year. Certainly, it won’t happen in 2013 when the governor and the Legislature are up for reelection.

3. Increase funding for higher education. According to former governor Tom Kean, who served as president at Drew University: “When I would try to sell New Jersey and bring jobs into our state, the businesses wanted to know the quality of our schools and the type of training the graduates are coming out with…. If we have a crumbling system of higher education, it will affect the jobs that are available, which will ultimately impact our state’s economy.” Many say we can’t afford to invest more in our public colleges and universities, but I say we can’t afford not to. Tuition is becoming unaffordable, and tuition increases are nothing more than a tax hike without calling it that.

4. Pass legislation that forces tiny New Jersey towns to merge, consolidate or share services. New Jersey’s home-rule tradition is no longer sustainable.  It’s one of the biggest reasons property taxes are through the roof. The merging of the two Princetons in November via the ballot box is an indication that voters can be convinced. The question is, are our legislators ready to act?

5. Pass a bill establishing marriage equality. That’s right, same-sex marriage. It is long overdue. Governor Christie would veto it, but then the members of the Legislature—including at least some Republicans and virtually all the Democrats—should be able to override that veto. If New York can do it, why can’t we?

6. End senatorial courtesy. It’s ridiculous. Only in New Jersey can a state senator block the appointment of a judge or a cabinet member who just happens to live in the senator’s home county, even if there is no legitimate reason to do so.  Senators use this so-called courtesy to hold up the appointment process and to bargain for unrelated provincial deals with the governor and his staff. Really?  This lame tradition of New Jersey politics has been abused for too long. Legislators should end it now.

7. Reform teacher tenure. Right now, after three years, a teacher can get tenure. The New Jersey Education Association, which represents teachers, has proposed that be increased to four years. That is a good start. A compromise. But we need to go further. I’m convinced the NJEA understands the need to take a more conciliatory tone on this issue, and legislators should seize the opportunity to finally pass tenure reform.  

8. Pass a resolution saying that every professional New Jersey sports team should actually have “New Jersey” in its name: We love the sound. New Jersey Giants, New Jersey Jets, New Jersey Red Bulls. Such a resolution won’t be binding with owners who are convinced New Jersey is bad for their brands, but at least the gesture will make the rest of us feel better.  

9. Ensure that our new medical-marijuana law is implemented in the way it was intended. Too many people with multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, glaucoma, terminal cancers and other diseases have been suffering for too long.  We shouldn’t make a bad situation worse for them. It’s the least we can do.

10. Pass the millionaires’ tax. Yes,  Christie will veto it. But it’s the right thing to do because any pain is spread equally. Yes, I’m worried about rich folks leaving the state and taking their money and jobs with them, but what are we saying if we don’t do this? We can’t keep burdening everybody else just because they have to work in New Jersey while the millionaires can move any time they please.

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