One week after leading a bipartisan delegation to tour Hurricane Sandy's devastation on the Jersey Shore, the assembly speaker today unveiled a package of job-creation bills she hopes will receive a bipartisan reception.
Sheila Y. Oliver (D-East Orange) said the Legislature and Gov. Chris Christie need to deal with the state’s high unemployment rate in order to ensure that the Sandy recovery coincides with a more substantial economic recovery.
“Nothing is going to get us there more quickly than if we get more New Jerseyans back to work,” Oliver said.
The package contains a number of bills that already have been passed and vetoed by Christie, though Oliver said the majority are new bills.
“We are today throwing out a hand of bipartisan participation and cooperation to the administration to sit down with the general Assembly and let us revisit many of those bills that we know will lead to growing and expanding and creating jobs in the state,” she said.
Even with the talk of bipartisanship, the Democrats didn’t shy away from laying blame for what they see as a too-slow economic recovery in the state.
Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Voorhees) said the state’s unemployment rate remains near 10 percent, and said many of the private-sector jobs created during Christie’s tenure have been low-paying jobs.
“No amount of press conferences or talking points is going to obscure the fact that in the last three years, New Jersey’s economy continues to get worse,” he said.
The package includes legislation to support high-paying manufacturing jobs and collaboration between business and higher education. Other bills encourage hiring of veterans and the long-term unemployed. The package also contains tax credits for investment in biotechnology, and a revamped version of the Back to Work NJ program, a plan previously vetoed by Christie and based on a jobs program in Georgia.
Assembly Budget Chair Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus) said he plans to have hearings on the bills Dec. 11 in order to allow floor votes Dec. 17.
Oliver said the total cost of the package is about $20 million. Greenwald noted that price tag is far less than the $183 million income tax plan proposed by Christie, which Greenwald charged would have “overwhelmingly rewarded the wealthiest 1 percent in the state.”
Greenwald said the Democratic plan is wiser investment, because businesses would first have to commit to jobs and growth before the state would have to spend money.
Asked if the timing of the package was related to the Assembly’s vote Monday to raise the state’s minimum wage, a move opposed by business groups, Oliver said the Assembly has already done much to support businesses and said her jobs package would also be helpful to businesses.
“This is not designed to deflect away or cushion the aggressiveness around wanting to raise the minimum wage,” she said. “This is just another component of what is necessary to get New Jersey’s economy working.”