Who she is: Erica Jedynak, state director of Americans for Prosperity-New Jersey, a conservative grassroots organization that advocates for lower taxes, restrained government spending, and less government regulation.
Home: Jedynak, 28, grew up in Jefferson Township in Morris County. Now married, she currently lives in Rockaway, also in Morris County.
Why she matters: Jedynak’s group represents more than 100,000 activists from across the state, and she frequently testifies before lawmakers to share the organization’s views on issues that range from education policy to how the state spends its transportation dollars. Her group also organizes numerous phone-bank events to raise awareness about key issues.
How she got started: Jedynak traces her interest in politics and government policy back to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science from Drew University in Madison, and then went to work for numerous political campaigns in New Jersey.
“After college I volunteered for a number of different campaigns, and I’ve been hooked ever since,” Jedynak said.
Her experience on the political side includes volunteer work for the campaigns of Gov. Chris Christie and U.S. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Morris), and managing a 2011 campaign for state Sen. Tony Bucco (R-Morris).
Jedynak also served for more than two years as the deputy chief of staff to Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce (R-Morris) before joining Americans for Prosperity-New Jersey last March.
Focusing on policy: As state director for the organization, Jedynak said her focus now is working on policy issues instead of supporting a specific politician or candidate.
“I get to work on the issues that matter the most to the members of the public,” she said.
Those include advocating for reform of New Jersey’s public-employee pension system and for finding a way to pay for New Jersey’s transportation infrastructure without hiking the state gas tax. Her organization also just released a taxpayer scoreboard that grades state lawmakers on how they’re voting in Trenton.
And while the Americans For Prosperity organization is often associated with the Republican Party – it reportedly receives funding from the conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch – Jedynak said it really comes down to the issues, not one particular political party.
“It’s really about leveraging the public’s voice,” she said.
She Said she appreciates the entrepreneurial spirit of the Americans for Prosperity organization, which has chapters across the country and is also active at the national level.
“We really run it like a business,” Jedynak said.
On the issues: There’s a lot going in Trenton these days, including the pending expiration of the latest five-year financing plan for the state Transportation Trust Fund and a July 1 deadline for the next state budget.
While Democratic legislative leaders have talked about raising the state’s gas tax to help extend the trust fund, which spends more than $3 billion annually on road, bridge and rail improvements throughout the state, Jedynak’s group firmly opposes a gas-tax increase.
Instead, she says, the state needs to adjust its transportation spending priorities. She suggests that the state give more responsibility to engineers to identify true priorities and to protect against lawmakers influencing which projects receive funding. The state could also do a better job of controlling construction costs, she said, recommending the use of retired police officers to provide on-site traffic control as an example.
Her preferred fix for the Transportation Trust Fund would involve using existing budget dollars instead of revenue from a gas-tax hike.
“We need to carve out current funds,” Jedynak said.
Her organization also opposes the proposed constitutional amendment that Democratic lawmakers hope to put on the ballot this November. If approved, it would require the state to eventually make the full contributions into the pension system that are called for by actuaries. The proposed amendment, backed by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), would also require the pension payments to be paid on a quarterly basis instead of all at once at the end of the fiscal year, which is the current practice.
Jedynak said the state’s pension-funding problem – the system is an estimated $40 billion in debt – requires a long-term plan that would ultimately result in the state offering its workers a defined-contribution retirement plan instead of a traditional defined-benefits pension.
“The number one issue for us is pension reform,” she said.
Her organization also opposes “corporate welfare” tax incentives that are offered through the state’s Economic Development Authority.
And, when it comes to the $34.8 billion budget Christie has proposed for the next state fiscal year, Jedynak said there’s “room to cut.”
“We’re actually going to be putting out our own budget and recommendations,” she said. “We’re going to be suggesting proposed cuts.”
Spare time? Jedynak is a former rugby player who still loves the contact sport. She said she also enjoys drawing and painting, with a preference for impressionism.
“One of my dreams is to one day open up an art gallery here in New Jersey,” she said.