One of the reasons I run this blog is because there’s more space to get away from the news cycle and have conversations about other issues worthy of our attention. This post is about NJ’s budget, but it’s also a chance to open really important strategic questions such as: where is the work? Is it in specifying and fighting for progressive policies, or in engaging those who fundamentally disagree with these policies?

New Jersey Policy Perspective, one of the state’s most prominent policy think tanks, earlier this year released a comprehensive response to Governor Christie’s freshly presented final state budget.  The Governor’s budget focuses on many facets of both new and old developments the administration wants to address, including putting to rest much of the political rhetoric as he plans to leave Drumthwacket in January.  The budget outlines a rather ambitious and innovative set of actions – intrinsic to the understanding that a public budget should reflect the administration’s values and principles for its constituents. It includes the establishment of a permanent fund between the state and Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey – which received an audible response from some legislators laughing at the idea –  and using lottery assets to offset the unfunded liability of the state’s pension system.  Evident by elected officials not finding it at all inappropriate to mockingly laugh at a sitting Governor giving a budget address presents a stark understatement when considering the turn “lame duck.”  I should mention that all 180 of those state legislators are up for reelection this November parallel to Christie’s official departure. 

Moving forward, the Governor pressed the Legislature (attributing to the ambitious nature of his final budget) to approve many of these initiatives within 100 days from when he presented the budget on February 28th – many of those initiatives have yet to reach Christie’s desk.  Having considered the current administration and the ambiguity that surrounded possible federal budget allocations, NJPP responded both to that uncertainty as well as the proposed state budget.  The blueprint itself takes on an extremely liberal tone compared to that of the fiscally conservative Governor Christie.  Calling for such action from the state like increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, spending caps on state tax breaks, and surcharging large employers relying on NJ FamilyCare (the state’s Medicaid expansion program) insuring its employees; the blueprint is an ambitious take on just exactly how far and wide the state government should truly span. 

The issue with this kind of a blueprint, while well researched and extremely articulate – and one with which I do ideally agree – is that it almost verges on that of utopian.  Much of the suggested actions NJPP is demanding from the state in this blueprint seem to live a vacuum in which political ideologies are simply not a factor.  In a crisis situation which many on the left seem to find themselves under with a Trump regime, it almost gives the impression that the liberal populations of the state are throwing caution to the wind in the hopes that they can simply maintain the livelihood they have somewhat taken for granted under an Obama administration, regardless of political leanings.  And I think there is something to be said about this kind of a blueprint.

Around the time of the budget presentation in Trenton, Professor Danley posted an article on this blog focused on the current parochialism of the Democratic party.  Taking those amazingly articulated views – I would read that post if I were you – a step further, the cause of such disdain for disloyalty among fellow Democrats is more deeply rooted in a more potent strain of neoliberalism just now being unleashed across the country.   In this past presidential election many people have told me that they never would have expected Trump to win, that it was a complete shock, and that they had no idea what they would do moving forward with a President Trump.  Now admittedly, I too was quite taken aback at first – staying up until close to 3:00 am glued to my television as precincts closed and numbers poured in.  What I realized in the days ahead was that much of the rhetoric that began to develop was around two basic theories: 1) electing Trump was backlash from rural, uneducated White Americans for eight years of a Black president, and 2) liberals across the country essentially painted conservative Americans into a political corner. 

During the Obama administration, many federal rules and regulations shifted and took form around a more diverse, inclusive, and accepting country.  Same-sex marriage was legalized and upheld by the Supreme Court, transgender Americans were given the right to use the bathroom of their choice rather than the one aligned with the sex on their birth certificate, Latino Americans saw an increase in public and political representation throughout the country – needless to say many of these changes are overall an intrinsic good when considering the immoral premise of segregation and discrimination.  What the masses supporting such federal action were becoming increasingly unaware of was that while certain rights and freedoms were being expanded across the country, many also felt the opposite. 

When you look at a random Facebook post within the last year or so concerning LGBT+ rights, there would most likely be a lively debate followed directly underneath this post with differing views and ideologies battling it out.  Eventually, though, what you would see is an increased defense from proponents of expanded rights so much so that the contrasting views would not only feel opposed but almost ostracized by the left.  An interesting, and somewhat aggressive, video that surfaced just after the election of President Trump gives a lot of context around what exactly led to such a “shocking” election result.  

***Disclaimer: the video is rather vulgar in language, though the content past the profanity is truly eye-opening – watch at your own discretion***

The New Jersey Policy Perspective has done amazing work in their field of what they coin as a “think-and-do tank.”  Having the reputation, credibility, and resources that they do, I am completely sure that the organization will be a powerful advocate for all of the outlined action items listed in their blueprint.  I think the work that truly needs to be done now is looking at how to make this palatable to many of the New Jerseyans who would fundamentally disagree with such a robust proposal of state government expansion. 

One powerful quote from the video mentioned above: “When will we learn that the key is discussion?  If you are unwilling to discuss then you are creating the conditions in which Donald Trump and people like him can thrive.”  Based on this blueprint, NJPP has not done as much discussion with folks of differing and competing perspectives just yet.  And while I fundamentally agree with many of the proposals in their blueprint, I wouldn’t expect much progress with almost any of them without first deep and intentional conversations with others that want to make sure their voice is given just as much respect and consideration.


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