Category Archives: Middle Class

>NJPP: In the end-game for the NJ state budget, the stakes couldn’t be higher.


June 20th 2011,

Dear Supporters,

Over the next two weeks – as the Legislature rushes to produce a budget that won’t drown in the ink from the line-item veto pen – we’re all too likely to fully realize the “new normal” that Governor Christie talked about when he proposed his budget four months ago.

It goes something like this:

Rich people and corporations get tax breaks.

The middle class will pay more.

We will all have to make do with less.

Instead of a balanced approach that includes revenues – like the courageous governor of Connecticut proposed – New Jersey’s budget relies only on cuts in services.

Instead of finding ways to invest in building blocks of a strong economy – schools, police, libraries, health care, parks, roads and bridges – the governor has dug in even further, promising to veto any tax increase, including a tax on millionaires’ incomes that has overwhelming public support. Even as state revenues start to rise a bit in the recession’s wake, the administration in Trenton insists we can’t afford:

Health care for working parents if they earn more than $115 a week.

Women’s health care at family planning clinics, even though it means missing out on federal matching funds, an increase in unintended pregnancies and higher costs to treat uninsured patients.

Maintaining the state Earned Income Tax Credit for working poor families, who have seen their taxes increase by $300 a year – the equivalent of a week’s wages – while the wealthiest got a tax cut.

Meanwhile, the state has found more than enough money to hand out $1 billion in subsidies and tax breaks for developers and corporations, including some of the most profitable businesses in the state. Extensive research and plain old common sense show that these giveaways don’t create jobs.

That’s where we come in.

As we have for 14 years, NJPP is shining a spotlight on important policy decisions with the goal of having a state government that promotes broadly shared prosperity for all New Jerseyans instead of picking winners and losers.

We’re proud to be a leading voice for fairness in New Jersey, using solid research and strategic communications to strongly advocate for those who have the smallest voices in the public arena – the poor, working families, the disabled and other vulnerable people in our society.

And we couldn’t do it without you.

NJPP’s generous supporters understand why our work is so important to the vision of New Jersey they want for themselves and their children.

You’ve received several emails from us in the past week highlighting our work.

Now, we are asking for your help.

Please click on the “donate” button below and give to NJPP today.

By contributing you will enable NJPP to keep digging deeper into tough policy issues and widely share our findings to make a difference in people’s lives. Every donation counts, whether it’s $1,000 to print and publish one of our reports or $50 to cover the cost of copying documents requested through the Open Public Records Act.

As you follow what’s going on in Trenton with the budget and other issues over the next couple of weeks, I ask that you keep in mind the work New Jersey Policy Perspective is doing and the role that you can play.

Together, we can create a “new normal” that lifts up every one of us, not just the privileged few.

Thanks so much for your support – past and future.


Deborah Howlett, President


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Filed under Gov. Chris Christie, line item veto, Middle Class, New Jersey Policy Perspective, NJ State Budget, OPRA requests, tax breaks for the rich, Uncategorized, women's health issues

>A special state budget update from NJPP President Deborah Howlett

In his budget address three months ago, Governor Christie outlined his view of the “new normal” in New Jersey. It went something like this:

  • Rich people get tax breaks.
  • The middle class pays more.
  • We all make do with less.

Most states, instead of relying solely on cuts to services – cuts that threaten jobs and economic recovery and hurt struggling families – have adopted a balanced approach that includes revenues. But the plan laid out by the governor was cuts-only. It would close state facilities for the profoundly disabled; continue last year’s devastating cuts to schools; and require deep reductions in health insurance coverage for people with no place else to turn.

Over the next month or so, lawmakers and the governor will work in Trenton toward agreement on a state spending plan for the coming fiscal year.

NJPP will be in the thick of things.

As we have for 14 years, NJPP is fighting for the return of fair and progressive fiscal policies that until recently provided opportunities for all New Jerseyans and prosperity that was broadly shared across the Garden State. In a series of emails over the next couple of weeks I’ll give you more details, but here are a few highlights of the work that NJPP is doing to make a difference.

  • Senior Analyst Ray Castro is a leading voice in the independent and critical analysis of how cuts to NJ Family Care, the state Earned Income Tax Credit, and Medicaid will make it harder for poor and working families to get by.
  • A study by NJPP and the national group Demos showed that a bill to deregulate telecommunications in New Jersey would cost consumers, especially the poor and the elderly. Using the findings in the report, NJ Citizen Action and AARP went to work on lawmakers and in a grassroots effort that included more than 10,000 phone calls to legislative offices they succeeded in getting the measure tabled.
  • NJPP’s report on the proliferation of corporate subsidies is the foundation for ongoing efforts by the Better Choices coalition, of which we’re a member, to restore badly needed revenue. Made up of more than 70 nonprofits — including human services, education, religious, and labor groups – Better Choices is a vocal advocate for a proposal developed by NJPP to raise taxes on the wealthiest among us, those with income (not net worth, but income) over $1 million a year.

We’re proud to be a leading voice for common sense in New Jersey, and to strongly and clearly advocate for those who have the smallest voices in the public arena – the middle class, working families, the disabled and the most vulnerable in our society.

That work was spotlighted in a story published recently by the Asbury Park Press, which caught the attention of one of its hometown readers, rock icon Bruce Springsteen. Speaking of NJPP and our partners, Springsteen wrote in a letter to the editor, “These are voices that in our current climate are having a hard time being heard, not just in New Jersey, but nationally.”

Like you, and The Boss, we refuse to accept the idea that there’s a “new normal.”

Not here in New Jersey.

Not this year.

More to come…

Deborah Howlett, President

Update: I want to clarify a point made in our earlier email “Special State Budget Update,” which may have left the impression that as a policy matter NJPP is opposed to the closing of state institutions for people with developmental disabilities. We absolutely are not. Further, we understand it is important that the effort to close these institutions be fully funded by the state so that people with disabilities can live in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs.


Deborah Howlett, President

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Filed under AARP, Bruce Springsteen, Debrorah Howlett, Gov. Chris Christie, health care cuts, Middle Class, New Jersey Policy Perspective, NJ State Budget, School cuts, service cuts, tax breaks for the rich, Trenton

>President Obama’s weekly Adress 11/6/10 :Priorities on Taxes

>President Obama lays out his priorities for the coming discussion about tax cuts, calling for compromise but making clear he cannot accept $700 billion in deficits or an increase in middle class taxes.

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Filed under Middle Class, President Obama, tax cuts, Taxes, weekly address

>President Obama’s Weekly Address 9/4/10: Honoring the American Worker

>The President talks about his fight to make America work for the middle class and make sure hard work is rewarded — rather than greed and recklessness .

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Filed under job growth, Labor Day, Middle Class, President Obama, Recession, weekly address

>NJPP Monday Minute 8/23/10: Extending Bush Tax Cuts for Top 2% Shortchanges the Economy

When Democrats in New Jersey raised the top rate on the state income tax last year, it was billed as a one-year, temporary increase on millionaires. When it expired this year, Democrats voted to renew the increase for another year. Republicans, emboldened by Gov. Christie’s veto threat, said “no.” They reasoned that Democrats purposefully wrote the expiration into the legislation, and so it should be allowed to expire.

In Washington, D.C., the partisans argue opposite sides of the “expiration” debate.

Republicans a decade ago enacted what came to be known as the Bush tax cuts, the signature domestic policy legislation of the Bush Administration. That legislation enacted tax cuts with an expiration date at the end of this year. Republicans want to renew the legislation. Democrats in Congress (echoing Republicans in New Jersey) argue the bill was written with an expiration date, and so it should be allowed to expire.

If it feels a little like a funhouse mirror, well, there’s a reason.

None of the partisan back-and-forth is about good fiscal policy or philosophical differences. It’s entirely about gaining political advantage.

But it should be pretty clear by now tax cuts haven’t spurred the nation’s economy. In fact, the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression happened on the heels of deep federal tax cuts. It makes almost no sense, from a policy perspective, to continue such cuts.

A study earlier this year by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office of 11 options for stimulating economic growth placed tax cuts dead last in effectiveness. Top among the options for creating jobs and jump-starting the economy: job-creation tax credits; extended unemployment benefits and funds to help states balance their budgets with fewer cuts in services.

A proposal by President Obama would allow the tax cuts to expire for the highest-income taxpayers while temporarily extending the cuts for the other 98 percent. Effectively, the plan would restore taxes on households with incomes of $250,000 or more to the same levels as ten years ago, except for tax cuts enacted as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

This chart from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities uses the CBO analysis to break down the cuts by income category:

The CBO study found that allowing the tax cuts to expire for those earning $250,000 a year or more – the wealthiest 2% of all taxpayers – would provide $40 billion in public funds over the next two years to invest in economic programs to boost the economy. Extending the cuts for the high-income earner would likely spur after-tax investments that would increase the GDP by about $10 billion, the CBO said. By comparison, the Center on Budget points out using the economic multipliers in the CBO analysis, investing $20 billion into state fiscal relief and $20 billion in job-creation tax credits would generate about $32 billion in GDP. That’s a tripling of the effect of extending the tax cuts.

For taxpayers in New Jersey, Obama’s proposal would mean an average federal tax cut of $2,245 in 2011 taxes over what would have been owed in 2001. For 80% of New Jersey taxpayers, that’s actually more than the Republican proposal for extending the tax cuts, according to a state-by-state analysis by Citizens for Tax Justice. Higher income households would still reap substantial savings: at least $10,000 for those with incomes of $350,000 or more.

It seems clear that given the anemic effect tax cuts have in stimulating the economy and the immediate impact of channeling those savings back into the economy, the Obama proposal is the middle ground that will provide revenue for improving the economy at the same time it provides relief for the greatest number of taxpayers who have been hardest hit by the economy.


Filed under Bush Tax Cuts, Congressional Budget Office, economy, Gov. Chris Christie, Middle Class, Monday Minute, New Jersey Policy Perspective

>The crisis of middle-class America

>Hat Tip to Facebook friend Rocca Mazza for pointing out this article from the Financial Times “The crisis of middle-class America”.

Rocca writes:

“Outstanding reporting published in the Financial Times on the crisis of middle class America. This is real, a must-read story. The story looks deeply into a few typical middle class families being financially suffocated by the economy with stagnated wages and increasing bills to pay. At some point, somethings got to give.

One family has an autistic son whose future they fear in such an uncertain landscape.

“….in the past few years the Freemans have been running low on optimism. ‘I guess the penny dropped in the last 18 months when we finally realised that it’s always going to be like this – we are never going to be able to retire on our savings,’ says Connie. ‘As for Andy,’ she says, referring to her painfully shy but acutely observant son, ‘the future really frightens me. If you’re young, it’s bad enough nowadays. But for a kid with autism?'”

This story also illustrates that while the wealthy become wealthier the poor are becoming poorer: “…..the annual incomes of the bottom 90…”

Here is a video link that accompanied the article, it is well worth the watch.

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Filed under Autism, great recession, Middle Class, President Obama, The Financial Times, wage stagnation

Behind Christie’s budget is the largest property tax hike New Jersey has ever seen


Rush Limbaugh is singing the praises of Governor Christie’s budget. National pundits talk of “spending cuts.” Some enthusiasts have gone as far as starting a “Christie for President” chant.

So many words. But as the big government spin machine rolls on, what is really happening?

Sweep away the bluster and the attitude, and behind it all is the largest property tax hike New Jersey has ever seen.

As was said of Bill Clinton’s budget in 1996 — “The era of big government is over — and all the programs are in place.” Underneath the hype that cocoons Christie’s budget is the fact that it grows state government by more than 6 percent — more than double the proposed 2.5 percent cap on local governments.

Beyond the rhetoric of phantom “spending cuts” is the fact that there are no layoffs in the bloated government payroll that exploded under the direction of Govs. Christie Whitman, James McGreevy and Jon Corzine. Every entitlement program is not just in place, but expanded. Property tax relief to suburban and rural taxpayers is reduced by an astonishing $2.56 billion.

Under Christie, New Jersey’s own Cap and Trade program is being implemented. This program not only mirrors, to the word, President Obama’s proposal, but places an enormous cost of $70 million on utility ratepayers this year alone.

And that’s not the only plank of the Obama agenda in the Christie budget. This budget implements the “public option” — called “family care” — and expands it by an astonishing $107 million, as the Christie administration announces its participation in the Obama “catastrophic pool.”

Christie’s budget expands entitlement programs as well, with food stamp eligibility expanded to 185 percent of poverty level, up from the traditional 135 percent.

Under this budget, state government grows at three times the rate of inflation. No departments are eliminated. No departments are consolidated. All bureaucrats remain in place and the central planners are in their glory.

Limbaugh, in common with other Christie cheerleaders, claims that the budget cuts spending by $11 billion. These are the infamous “phantom cuts” I spoke of earlier.

Here are the facts: The budget adopted by the Legislature in June of 2009 was $29.8 billion. The Christie budget spends $28.3 billion. Where’s the $11 billion cut?

The cut appears to be $1.5 billion, but where does it come from? Some $840 million of the cut comes from property tax relief in the form of school aid to primarily suburban school districts. Another $420 million comes from cuts to municipalities. And $1.3 billion in property tax rebate checks are eliminated.

This all adds up to a massive suburban property tax hike.

Are these real spending cuts — as in cuts that reduce the size and scope of government — or simply a cover story that hides a 6 percent spending increase?

Whatever it is, Limbaugh is buying it. It doesn’t matter to him that aid to taxpayers is cut by $2.56 billion, that the budget is down only $1.5 billion, with the other $1 billion being shifted to funding bigger government in Trenton.

State funding for pre-school programs, primarily in what used to be referred to as urban Abbott districts, is at a record $613 million, up from $593 million under Corzine. Christie called this “babysitting” during the election, but under him this “babysitting” is averaging more than $12,000 per child.

It’s shocking when you consider that places like Hoboken — with six-figure median incomes — were actually classified as Abbott districts and receive millions in free day care provided by Christie’s pre-school program.

Christie’s budget sends a record 60 percent of our income tax to these districts. Under Corzine the amount was 54 percent. Christie is doing to the suburbs what Corzine would never have succeeded in doing.

To further burden taxpayers, the runaway debt continues with the state borrowing an additional $500 million in new debt for school construction — primarily in the Abbott districts — without voter approval. The beleaguered State Pension System receives not a cent of the state’s required contribution, down from the $160 million budgeted by Corzine in 2009. This is not a cut — this is kicking the can down the road.

In this fragile housing market, homeowners can expect their home values to drop even further as buyers discount purchase prices due to higher taxes. The loss of school and municipal aid will drive up property taxes at a record pace, resulting in a corresponding loss in property values. This means a loss of annual income and a loss of wealth.

At a time when our nation is struggling to recover from a recession, this budget drives a dagger into our economic recovery. I wonder if Rush Limbaugh supports such policies?

Voters should urge their legislators to vote no on the Christie budget. A vote for this budget is a vote for record property tax hikes.

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Filed under Gov. Chris Christie, Middle Class, New Jersey, New Jersey Newsroom, property taxes, Rush Limbaugh, Steve Lonegan, tax increase

Vice President Joe Biden and the Middle Class Task Force

The President created a Middle Class Task Force and asked his right hand man, Vice President Joe Biden, to lead it. The Task Force has one goal — to make sure the recovery doesnt just benefit the wealthy, like past expansions, but improves quality of life for the middle class.

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Filed under economy, Joe Biden, Middle Class, Middle Class Task Force, President Obama, quality of life, the White House, Vice-President

Vice President Joe Biden and the Middle Class Task Force

The President created a Middle Class Task Force and asked his right hand man, Vice President Joe Biden, to lead it. The Task Force has one goal — to make sure the recovery doesnt just benefit the wealthy, like past expansions, but improves quality of life for the middle class.

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Filed under economy, Joe Biden, Middle Class, Middle Class Task Force, President Obama, quality of life, the White House, Vice-President

>Obama’s First 100 Days Scream for Boldness, Not Piddling Plans

>Within hours of Barack Obama’s election, naysayers chastened caution. Don’t go too far, they inveighed. Build trust slowly with restrained, moderate, and gradual actions, they admonished.

In other words: Start with piddling plans.

Basically, they want to abort hope — kill it before it has a chance.

That is all wrong after an election in which it’s believed that a higher percentage of Americans voted than at any time in the past 40 years; a win that brought tears to the eyes of even hardened reporters; a result that drew joyful citizens into streets across the country to celebrate, a balloting that swept even larger majorities of Democrats into the U.S. House and Senate.

This moment during which the nation is suffering great economic peril pleads for political valor. This moment screams for boldness.

Troubled times demand greatness. Franklin D. Roosevelt knew that. He’s the reason U.S. presidents are judged by the sum of their accomplishments in their first 100 days in office.

When FDR was inaugurated in 1933, the country was in the midst of the Great Depression. He didn’t waste time tinkering. After 100 days, he’d given the country the Emergency Banking Act, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Federal Emergency Relief Act and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Obama may not inherit a Great Depression, but he’ll take the oath during an intense recession. Look at the news that arrived the same week as his election: unemployment rose to 6.5 percent after 10 straight months of jobs losses totaling more than 1.2 million; the stock market dropped 1,000 points in 48 hours after the worst October showing in two decades; auto makers travelled to Capitol Hill begging like hobos for handouts to stave off bankruptcy, two dozen major retailers revealed sales declines, most double digit, and the New York Times reported hospitals strained as they register fewer paying patients and increasing charity cases.

These problems won’t be solved with timidity. In his first press conference after the election, Obama said resolving the economic crisis is his top priority. He said, in fact, “I will confront the economic crisis head on.” No weak-heartedness suggested there.

He said a new president can restore confidence and advance an agenda for the middle class. That is exactly what FDR did with the combination of legislation and fireside chats.

During this brief press conference, Obama got it right, emphasizing aid to the middle class. He said it is essential to pass a rescue plan that would create jobs and extend unemployment benefits. He wants aid to state and local governments so they don’t increase taxes or furlough workers.

The federal government should help both small businesses and the huge auto industry, which provides jobs directly and indirectly through its suppliers.

The $700 billion bailout must be reviewed, he said, to ensure that it is stabilizing markets, that it’s not unduly rewarding the Wall Street risk-takers who caused the crisis, and that it’s helping families avoid foreclosure.

In addition, he said it’s essential to implement policies to grow the middle class such as investing in clean energy technology, resolving the nation’s health insurance dilemma, and providing tax relief for working families.

These are the correct priorities. And his plans are audacious. Which means he needs our help.

He called for bipartisan cooperation in accomplishing these goals. But he’ll need more than that. He will need the kind of support he got in those weeks just before Election Day.

All of those who voted for him, all of those who want to keep hope alive, and all of those who want real change must demand both houses of Congress and both political parties work with Obama to accomplish it. Those who believe in real change must make it clear that they won’t stand by and allow courageous action to be reduced to faint-hearted baby steps.

On election night, Obama told the crowd in Chicago that the victory was theirs: “I know you didn’t do this just to win an election and I know you didn’t do it for me.”

Then he warned of what is ahead:

“You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime – two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.”

With more than 10,000 volunteers across the country, the United Steelworkers campaigned hard to help get Obama on that Chicago stage to make that speech. We will back him as he works to fulfill his promises of what is a New Deal for the new century. And we urge every American who wants real change to join us to ensure his success, the nation’s success.

Leo W. Gerard
United Steelworkers International President

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Filed under Barack Obama, Democrats, Economic Crisis, First 100 days, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Loe W. Gerard, Middle Class, United Steelworkers International