By Regina Egea
For five months, New Jerseyans have endured significant hardships and made difficult choices to overcome the health challenge posed by COVID-19. Reduced revenues and operations of many businesses, leading to the loss of employment for over 1.4 million of our residents, required more scrutiny in spending both by consumers as well as business owners.
The Supreme Court’s decision permitting borrowing, but limiting it to COVID-related expenses, is similarly a recognition that our government is also dealing with an emergency with few parallels. But this permission to borrow does not mean that we must borrow.
Why shouldn’t we expect, not just Trenton to address the budget gap, but also our local municipal and school leaders to collaborate with state leaders towards meaningful and reasonable spending reductions statewide prior to any borrowing?
A reliance on debt to finance a spending level that annually drives up all our taxes and cost of living will sentence New Jersey for decades to remain last in business climate and first in outmigration. New Jersey deserves thoughtful and collective leadership from our elected leaders regardless of political affiliation or the office held.
Bonding that is undertaken as a last resort to meet the FY 2021 budget deficit must only be for one-time expenses, not a deferral of our well documented imbalance in spending. Multiple concerned former Treasury officials have made this point during the weeks leading up to this court decision but now it is in the hands of those currently elected.
The opportunity to address our long-term structural debts through the tough choices and urgent reforms that our leaders have thus far desperately avoided is here.
Whether they accept that responsibility is the only question yet to be answered.
Regina M. Egea is president of the Garden State Initiative (GSI) and served as Governor Chris Christie’s Chief of Staff from 2015 to 2016.