SOMERVILLE, NJ - Three state lawmakers who represent central New Jersey in the Senate and Assembly agreed yesterday that the path to recovery for New Jersey’s beleaguered taxpayers and ailing economy must begin with a reasonable, bi-partisan approach to find solutions that are affordable and practical.
Otherwise, the state of affairs in New Jersey will soon resemble the dysfunctional politics of the nation’s capital, according to longtime state Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman, R-Somerset/Middlesex/Hunterdon/Mercer.
“We’re at that point,” Bateman said.
Bateman was joined by state Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-16th) and Assemblyman Roy Freiman, D-16th at the monthly luncheon of the Somerset County Employers Legislative Committee at Verve Restaurant, Bar & Bistro to speak about their legislative priorities and having to work alongside Gov. Phil Murphy, who took office less than two weeks ago.
Decades of fiscal mismanagement will be difficult to overcome, according to Freiman.
“There are no silver bullets,” he said. “It will take a series of things to get us out of the mess we are in,” he added.
Making matters worse is that there is no long term plan, the freshman legislator said, suggesting the state could learn a lesson from the Somerset County Freeholders and key organizations like the Somerset County Business Partnership.
“Somerset County already has a vision,” Freiman said, citing the freeholders’ long-term strategy to maintain a quality of life, contain expenses, to attract business and investment and to respect and protect the environment.
Bateman, who has served as a state legislator for 25 years, said Republicans and Democrats have to “reach across the aisle to get things done.”
Bateman is one of 15 Republicans in the 40-member state Senate; the Democrats have a guaranteed majority on all proposed legislation assuming they vote the party line.
Bateman said between seven and nine Democrats in the state Senate oppose Murphy’s plan to legalize marijuana in an effort to pump an estimated $300 million in to the state Treasury.
“He really doesn’t have the support in the Senate,” Bateman said.
Bateman did say, however, that Murphy likely would get Senate backing for decriminalization of marijuana and an improved distribution system for medicinal marijuana.
“It really does help people who need it,” Bateman said.
Beyond that, Bateman said Murphy’s biggest challenge will be cobbling together an affordable state budget, which has hovered around $33 billion during the eight years Chris Christie was governor.
During his campaign for governor, Murphy offered many proposals, many of which make sense, Bateman conceded, mentioning a proposal for full-day kindergarten and free tuition at the state’s community colleges.
“They’re good ideas, but how do you pay for them,” Bateman said. “New Jersey is a great state, but it is getting unaffordable,” he said. “Every time we do something in Trenton, it has an impact.”
Zwicker cautioned that the state’s firmly-entrenched biotech and pharmaceutical industries are leaving New Jersey, lured to other states by lucrative tax incentive packages, places like Cambridge, MA, the Research Park Triangle in North Carolina, and New York state.
Zwicker is a physicist and science educator at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, where he is the head of the Office of Communications and Public Outreach; he is a fellow of the American Physical Society; the American Association of Physics Teachers has named him to its list of 75 leading contributors to physics education.
He’s all about science and believes that there is “tremendous opportunity” in the sciences, technology and innovation and that more must be done to encourage and attract high-tech investment in New Jersey.
He advocates greater emphasis in those fields in New Jersey’s schools and universities, to create a pipeline of potential employees to help fuel innovation.
“An emphasis on innovation will help grow the New Jersey economy,” Zwicker said.