We cheered when Congress approved $60.4 billion in emergency spending to help New Jersey and its neighbors recover from superstorm Sandy, but the story of recovery is just beginning. Now that the cash has begun flowing into New Jersey, we must ensure the money gets into the hands of those who need it the most and in a way that helps all of them — and New Jersey — emerge from the storm of the century and the recession.
This opportunity must not be squandered. Grants, first and foremost, must go to residents and businesses that were directly struck by the storm so they can rebuild. This will generate jobs and a boost for our economy. Roughly $25 billion is expected to be invested in construction alone in New Jersey through 2015, according to a report by the Rutgers University's Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.
The aid, meanwhile, will help get Jersey Shore merchants open for business by Memorial Day. Meeting this deadline is important symbolically, and it is critical to our state's $40 billion-per-year tourism industry. To support our shore businesses, the state needs to quickly roll out the proposed $25 million marketing campaign to make sure everyone knows the Jersey Shore is open for business this summer. Funds must also go to help municipalities whose property tax bases were decimated by Sandy. And a sensible plan must be devised to develop smart building codes and flood maps that make rebuilding fair and affordable.
To accommodate this, it is important for Democrats and Republicans to get on the same page, even in a gubernatorial election year. We know they can do it. Before the storm and the presidential election, our Republican governor and Democratic-controlled Legislature worked together to pass landmark legislation that began to restore New Jersey's economic vitality — pension and health benefit reform, teacher tenure reform, and property tax reform. And we were beginning to see results. New Jersey gained 66,400 jobs (59,100 in the private sector) in 2012, the state's highest annual job gain in more than a decade.
Our government relations team here at the chamber remains busy monitoring the rebuilding activities and pushing for the pro-growth initiatives we need to regain our economic momentum. These include the continued phase-in of business tax reforms, such as establishing a net operating loss carry-forward for small businesses and a fairer formula for calculating corporation business tax liability. These initiatives are contained in Gov. Chris Christie's proposed state budget and are geared toward strengthening the economy and growing jobs.
Ultimately, restoring New Jersey is a collective effort that will require judicious use of the relief funding and the continued passage of pro-growth policies.
There's an easy way you can help New Jersey — think New Jersey business first. If you need a product or service, buy from or hire a New Jersey company. We can certainly recommend most any kind of company you need from our roster of members. Another thing you can do — take a trip to the Jersey Shore to support the businesses that line our 130 miles of sandy beaches.
Christie spoke for many of us when he said in his budget address, “I expect to go to the Jersey Shore every summer for the rest of my life, including the summer of 2013.”
We have a unique opportunity to achieve a positive outcome from the catastrophic impact of superstorm Sandy. There can be no better message sent by our state than an expeditious recovery. Let's show the rest of the country what New Jersey is all about.
Thomas A. Bracken, president and CEO
New Jersey Chamber of Commerce