Every year 40 to 45 percent of American adults make one or more resolutions to change certain behavior patterns. Among the top personal goals are weight loss, getting more exercise and quitting smoking. People also want to act more responsibly with respect to their finances and get out of debt.
Research shows that making resolutions can be useful because people who explicitly make resolutions are ten times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make them. And even if only about 50 percent of people keep their resolutions for six months, it is still useful to try.
If people can make these resolutions and change their behavior, perhaps it would be useful for the state to do so as well. Here are some suggested resolutions to help New Jersey do better in the coming year.
Enact a fiscally responsible budget that meets the needs of all New Jersey residents. Enact no new laws without a full understanding of the revenue gain or loss to the state and local governments. Do a complete analysis of who benefits and who loses when laws are changed. All of this should be done in a manner that informs the public and is based on fact. Transparency is critical. The richest taxpayers in New Jersey just received a tax windfall from Washington. If managing the state’s finances in a fiscally responsible way requires increasing taxes on some, the state should do it.
Cut the hype; explain the facts. Poor financial decisions have caused New Jersey’s debt to grow measurably over the years. Since the 1990’s, governors and legislators have borrowed when they shouldn’t have; have failed to make pension and retirement payments; have expanded programs without resources to provide for them; and have cut taxes with no understanding of the impact. It has taken many years to get into this situation; it will take years to correct it. Public employees who plow the roads, teach children, put out fires and pay the bills are not the enemy. They have contributed towards their benefits; the state has not. A thoughtful plan of action for the future agreed upon by all is needed.
Commit to reducing gasoline consumption by 10 percent through a combination of increased fees on gas consumption and improvements in public transportation. New Jersey last increased fees on motor fuel consumption in 1988 while at the same time making its public transportation system one of the most expensive to use in the nation. New Jersey should expand the sales tax to include motor fuels; raise its gas tax; and use some of the new resources to make mass transit more affordable again. The benefits of this include less congestion on the roads, cleaner air, healthier people and independence from authoritarian oil-producing nations.
Get a Better Education
Over the last year, the Governor has engaged in an unproductive and ugly debate about New Jersey’s education system. Calling public school children “drug mules” does not get at the central debate about how to continue to educate New Jersey children and future leaders. Cutting $800 million in state aid from school budgets will likely increase class sizes without having a measurable effect on lowering property taxes. The governor, the legislature, NJEA, teachers, administrators and parents need to work together to address the problems that exist and fix them.
Get a Better Job
The state’s colleges and universities produce the leaders of the future and are critical to the state’s competitive business climate. Young, educated families move to New Jersey because of the state’s good schools and the high quality, well paid work opportunities provided throughout this region. But the state needs to be aware that it must effectively support its colleges and universities and the students who attend them. Education has made America a world leader. Investments in higher education are a much better growth strategy than tax breaks to corporations.
Take care of the needy. Raise the minimum wage to a living wage and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to its 2010 level of 25 percent of the federal credit, recognizing that New Jersey is a high cost-of-living state for working poor people. Expand services to feed the hungry, provide heat to low income people and care for the elderly and disabled. Reinstate the appropriations to family planning organizations, school breakfast and lunch programs, and after school programs that lost their funding under the current budget. Adopt a homeless animal. Feed the birds. Don’t kill deer and bears.
All of these resolutions call upon us to invest – in people, the environment and the state’s infrastructure. They ask us to listen and think and get the facts. They ask for civility and kindness. It’s clear we have to do better than we have done in the past. And that’s what resolutions are all about. If we resolve to do these things and we only succeed at half of them, New Jersey will be a better place.