After taking a hiatus from research during final exams, I am ready to share another post. Today at 2pm I will be sharing my research and recommendations with the Fifth Legislative District of New Jersey. Maybe some of these recommendations can influence the legislative process! My report is below:
Research Presentation to the 5th Legislative District of New Jersey
This report has been created by: Brian K. Everett of Cherry Hill, NJ
As of May 2014, there are several indicators that show both New Jersey and Camden City to be on the brink of prosperity. In some cases, these indicators do not include the State and Camden City at the same time, while other indicators are symbiotic. Within this report, I shall explore themes that include the minimum wage, affordable housing, marijuana, and Philadelphia.
I will begin by exploring some of the indicators that work to define the benefits of the minimum wage referendum. On November 5th of 2013, New Jersey voters approved the referendum ballot that increased the minimum wage to $8.25 which took effect on January 1st of 2014. This referendum, however, includes an annual adjustment to the minimum wage based upon a cost of living index. Such legislation will immediately benefit New Jersey residents come 2015, given that MIT projects the current cost of living to boil down to $11.13/hr. However, one part of this debate that is constantly missing from the public rhetoric is the impact that it can have on municipal and state budgets.
Below, I have outlined the potential increase of income for a Camden resident working at the minimum wage, and I have calculated the potential degrease in State Aid that Camden City would need based upon a constant correlation between current and future median property tax rates.
This scenario is not just confined to Camden City. It can be applied to several New Jersey municipalities that have high concentrations of minimum wage workers such as Trenton, Newark, Elizabeth, Paterson, Passaic, East Orange, Vineland, and more. In total, the State of New Jersey can expect to save +/- $300 million a year in municipal and educational aid should the correlation between minimum wage and the median property tax rate keep true.
Often times there is a lot of opposition to raising the minimum wage because of potential layoffs and closures of small businesses. When we break the math down to a weekly budget, I believe we can see that the burden is not as extreme as the public rhetoric makes it out to be. Given the current minimum wage at $8.25, an employee will make $330 by working 40 hours a week. This is an increase of X dollars a week from the previous minimum wage at $7.25. Should the cost of living index indeed elicit an $11.13 per hour minimum wage by 2015 which MIT suggests, employees can expect an additional $40 a week. So, in total, employers would be contributing an additional $155.20 a week based upon the change from $7.25 to $11.13. In a year, employers contribute approximately $8,070.40 more than they did three years ago for each of their employees, which puts minimum wage workers above the federal poverty threshold for the first time in more than ten years. The only thing that the Fifth Legislative District needs to do for this topic is continue to support the benefits of a higher wage for the citizens, especially at the beginning of the new year.
The money that the State can save money by granting less aid to distressed cities which can be a great opportunity for the state to fill the +$800 million deficit and make pension payments on time.
Another effort that the Fifth legislative District can support in order to mend the State’s fiscal problems is to support Senator Scutari’s effort to decriminalize marijuana. I would recommend a full study by medical professionals on the health risks given that marijuana is a drug and I am not a medical doctor. However, it seems as though there is a lot of literature in the medical field that suggests marijuana to be less dangerous than alcohol. No matter how dangerous it is or isn’t, we need to look at two specific topics; 1. The bill, and 2. Colorado.
As it stands right now, S-1896 takes the medical risks into account by outlining an age requirement of 21 years old, and by limiting the amount an individual is allowed to possess. Marijuana would continue to stay out of the hands of teenagers on a legal basis, just like alcohol, and tobacco for the most part. The main issue that I have with this bill is this distribution of the revenue, which bring me to the next topic.
Colorado has shown that the legalization of marijuana is very doable, and has become a brand new, and sorely needed burst of industry. It was projected during January that Colorado would make roughly $600 million in taxed marijuana revenue during this fiscal year. Such a large amount of money could be the perfect plug to New Jersey’s leaking budget. However, if marijuana was indeed to become a legal reality in New Jersey, the distribution of revenue within bill S-1896 needs to be revisited. As it stands right now, 70% of all revenue will be directed to the Transportation Trust Fund Account. With never ending cuts to educational programs, a lack of affordable housing units, failing sewage infrastructure, and continuously rising college tuitions, it seems unwise to direct at least $420 million of what could be New Jersey’s $600 million of marijuana revenue directly to one small part of the state’s budget.
Supporting the legalization of marijuana also means a smaller amount of incarcerations. New Jersey has a very high inmate population, which translates to another burden on the State and the tax payers.
We have just received new recommendations from COAH, however, I must agree with the public rhetoric that they are insufficient. The issue is not defined to end with there simply not being enough affordable housing, although that is a very important issue within itself. What continuously fails to reach the public rhetoric is the locations where we place affordable housing units as a government. Over the years, only a few municipalities have been burdened with building affordable units for families while other municipalities have zero units. This trend is directly responsible for leaving Camden City incapable of generating a sufficient tax base in order to provide basic public works projects. This trend has also made Camden City and at least 13 other New Jersey municipalities to become highly dependent on State municipal and educational aid on an anual basis. Below, I have outlined this trend by the numbers. A municipality that receives more than $10 million in municipal aid while simultaneously receiving more than $100 million in educational aid is a municipality with at least 40% of the entire county’s affordable housing units for families.
These municipalities also show poor education test scores, exhibit high crime rates, and in some instances have been declared food deserts. All of this is because as a collective government, we have only allowed our poor families to live amongst each other. In Camden County, for example, a poor child is 76.8% more likely to live in Camden City than anywhere else in the county simply because of the location of the affordable units. This also means that a poor child in Camden County is 76.8% to attend school in a place of high crime and poor access to food. By continuously limiting poor families to one city in Camden County, they never have the same opportunities to an education as the suburban families do, nor do they have the same opportunity to buy fresh food, or to seek employment, which then generates the need to commit crimes in order to survive, and has created a vicious cycle of continuous impoverishment.
This bill is designed to take immediate action on the affordable housing crisis in New Jersey, thus eliminating the need to await official interpretation and implementation of the Mount Laurel Decision(s) by the New Jersey State Supreme Court. This bill is indeed inspired by the Mount Laurel Decisions, both I and II; however, A513 has a modern and formulaic approach to the placement of affordable housing for Family units. These units are denoted as FAM units on the New Jersey Guide to Affordable Housing. The original responsibility of providing the appropriate amount of affordable housing was left to New Jersey’s municipalities by the suggestions offered by COAH. Under their suggestions, a municipality was expected to build one unit of affordable housing for every four houses built, and one unit of affordable housing for every thirty jobs created within a given municipality. In Camden County, the opposite scenario exists in which Camden City contains 76.8% of Camden County’s FAM developments, and Cherry Hill does not contain a single FAM development. This drastic imbalance of family units has left Camden City to continuously yield an insufficient tax base, and has isolated Camden County’s poor families from prosperous economies and school districts which could empower them to rise above the poverty threshold. The consolidation of Camden County’s poor families has also left Camden City unable to introduce a higher median property tax in order to provide its citizens with the appropriate public services, which has made the city heavily reliant on annual State Aid. This scenario also exists in Mercer, Essex, Union, Hudson, and Cumberland Counties.
Due to specific municipalities in New Jersey holding an extreme percentage of family (FAM) developments within their boundaries, the following shall be henceforth established as law;
-Under no circumstances may any municipality in New Jersey contain more than 15% of a county’s FAM affordable housing units.
-Under no circumstances may any municipality in New Jersey contain less than 5% of a county’s FAM affordable housing units.
-Municipalities with a GDP of XX or above must provide at least 9% of the County’s FAM affordable housing units. Municipalities with a GDP of less than XX will receive an exception and only be required to provide 3% of a counties affordable housing units for families.
-The County Governments are responsible for the oversight and enforcement of all municipal affordable housing obligations based upon mathematical calculation to determine the appropriate amount of units for each municipality.
-The State Government is responsible for the oversight and enforcement of all County affordable housing obligations based upon mathematical calculation to determine the appropriate amount of units for each County. Each of New Jersey’s 21 counties should have no less than 4.5% and no more than 5.8% of New Jersey’s affordable housing units for families. The State Government shall intervene in municipal disputes when County Governments should prove unable to delegate the appropriate amount of affordable housing units for families by using executive authority.
In the event that a municipality contains more than 15% of a county’s affordable housing units for families, the county government will be responsible to engage in a collaborative effort with its municipal governments in order to balance the total FAM units in a more even fashion throughout the county. If this collaboration is unable to properly distribute the responsibilities of FAM affordable housing units based upon this bill, it will become the Governor’s executive responsibility to intervene and use executive authority to have county and municipal governments adhere to this bill.
As a state legislature we can reverse this cycle by adhering to the details within my Assembly Bill A-513 (see attached). I recommend that the Fifth Legislative District first supports these details specifically for Camden County itself. By passing legislation specifically for Camden County, the Fifth Legislative District will be directly aiding Camden City residents, but this action will also serve as another example of how the proper distribution of affordable housing can yield several successful communities, economies, and a much lower dependence of state financial aid.
Such an example already exists in Bergen County, where no municipality contains more than 10.5% of the affordable housing units within the entire county. Such a trend has made Garfield the most aid dependent municipality in Bergen County with a combined total of $57,758,979. In the case of Camden, Trenton, Paterson, East Orange, and others, Garfield’s number is half of the educational aid total alone because all of these municipalities hold family unit concentrations of 40% or higher. By adhering to the suggestions within A-513, the Fifth Legislative District can move towards making New Jersey a more financially responsible, and socially stronger state. Just like we here, “we need to spread the wealth”, it’s obvious that we also need to spread the impoverishment. Research by Dr. Doug Massey of Princeton University suggests that low income families are much more likely to rise above the poverty threshold and no longer need affordable housing if they are living in a more affluent municipality. This is largely due to a thriving economy that has access to fresh foods, an approachable job market, and a lower crime rate.
The city of brotherly love is absolutely in a prosperous phase. The public got word no too long ago that Comcast will be building a second skyscraper in Center City, a move that can generate millions of anual dollars. During this section, I’m merely regurgitating an article written by Rutgers-Camden Emeritus Professor Howard Gillette. He believes, as do I, that based upon Philadelphia’s boom and continued growth, Camden City can become Philadelphia’s Brooklyn. For younger individuals who may work in Philadelphia, it may not be financially possible to live in Center City. Camden, being just across the river, may be a cheaper option for these workers. As construction wraps up in City Lot 11, I find it very possible to imagine River Front housing with a total of five skyscrapers in the background.
- In order for Camden’s Brooklynification to be a success, we need to have a successful City with successful residents. The raise in the minimum wage will help low income residents get by easier than they have been, but their full potential will never be realized while they continuously remain surrounded by food insecurity, crime, and a poor educational success rate. Camden County needs to act on affordable housing independently in order to develop a “sister-cities” relationship between Philadelphia and Camden.
Although repairs and restorations are in the making as we speak, Camden will not become Philadelphia’s Brooklyn while the only train going into Center City from New Jersey is the PATCO line. I do not have any statistics or evidence to support this claim, however, I believe that Philadelphia and Camden and South Jersey in general will benefit from a new rail system that utilizes the forgotten air tram pillars. However, while we are connecting Philadelphia to Camden, why not have an above ground route that visits Cherry Hill’s shopping district, and other key locations along RT. 70 and RT. 38? Such a connection would truly make the Greater Philadelphia Region a rival to New York City.