The Garden State has to invest in order to boost the economy. That was the clarion call from Democrats in the Senate at a State House press conference Monday.

The Assembly Chambers at the Statehouse
The Assembly Chambers at the Statehouse (Governor's Office/Tim Larsen)

NJ Democrats told members of the press they would host roundtable talks with residents,  stakeholders and policy experts about investing in early childhood education, college affordability, transportation, retirement security, neighborhoods and public-private partnerships. This investment would not be free and tax increases are in the mix.

“We’re talking about New Jersey’s economy and the best way to improve our economy is to invest. Let’s be clear; investment is the heart of the state’s economy and it’s time to get the heart pumping again,” said State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Thorofare).

The state and the Administration of Gov. Chris Christie in particular have turned their back on the economy and the economy has paid the price, according to Sweeney. Speaking of price, the investment plan comes with one especially in the transportation area where lawmakers are looking for a revenue source to pour $2 billion dollars a year into the Transportation Trust Fund which is on pace to go broke July 1, 2016.

“There’s no free roads or free bridges and if you know of any I’ll get somebody to buy them off of you,” Sweeney said. “There’s going to be, whether it’s going to be a gas tax or sales tax (increase), there’s going to be some coming.”

Although he said everything has to be on the table when it comes to the TTF, the governor has also said he would not raise other taxes. Christie’s spokespeople did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment on the Democrats’ plan. The senate president was asked if his plan is moot because of the governor’s pledge not to hike taxes.

“If you don’t try you get nothing and we’re going to push our agenda as best as we possibly can and what we can get done with him (Christie) we’ll get done with him and whoever the next administration is,” Sweeney explained.

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark) was put in charge of the early childhood education initiatives.

“We cannot afford not to make this investment,” said Ruiz. “We have to stop thinking of a K-through-12 system. We have to really approach education from zero to 18.”

The Democrats cited federal statistics that showed every dollar invested in early childhood education produces at least seven dollars in increased earnings and reduced education costs. Each dollar invested in transportation produces $3.50 in direct and indirect growth and those with a college degree earn an estimated $1.2 million in additional income in their lifetime.

In a response to the announcement, Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean said the Democrats' plans lack specificity when it comes to the creation of actual bills to make the state more affordable and accomplish some of the other goals.

“I’m glad to hear that our Senate Democrat colleagues today echoed themes in our vital mission, although they didn’t actually announce any specific bills to make the state more affordable, keep and attract jobs, or improve education, for example. I hope that their headline, ‘New Jersey: Investing In You,’ doesn’t translate to Democrats taking more money from hardworking taxpayers and middle-class families.”

In addition, Kean explained the results of a GOP caucus that resulted in 36-bill jobs package to help grow New Jersey's economy.

“In late April, after touring the state for months to meet with stakeholders, educators, employers and people in the workforce, the Senate Republican caucus culminated the rollout of a 36-bill jobs package to grow the economy without costing overtaxed residents any more money. Legislative Democrats have signed onto and voted to help us advance 15 of these bills so far," Kean said. “In June 2014, Senate Republicans also announced an expanding roadmap of specific solutions to address the most pressing issues for middle-class families and job creators, to specifically ‘make New Jersey the place to live, grow, work, vacation and retire.’

Kevin McArdle has covered the State House for New Jersey 101.5 news since 2002. Contact him at Follow him on twitter at @kevinmcardle1.

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