Op-Ed: Now is our chance to transform New Jersey and the future of our cities

Regina M. Egea | June 21, 2021 | Opinion, Budget
The state now has billions of dollars available for extraordinary investment capacity
Regina M. Egea

A strong and stable economic future for New Jersey as a whole, as well as specifically our cities, deserves priority to take best advantage of the state’s extraordinary $5 billion investment capacity starting in 2021 but continuing into the next several years. This is our opportunity to deliver on promises made to build prosperity for those who have least benefited from New Jersey’s bountiful assets.

Unlike many of our neighboring states, most of New Jersey’s economic growth engines are not centered in our urban communities. New Jersey has the opportunity to unlock the potential of these communities to become vibrant, self-sustaining economic centers and spawn wealth creation for its residents over a sustained period.

Success in this $5 billion New Jersey transformation is dependent upon, among other attributes, leadership from local and state individuals willing to work with clearly defined objectives and deadlines. Certainly, this will include some acknowledgement of the property-tax burden all of New Jersey bears now and allocate a portion of these investment dollars to provide them relief. However, if investing in our most challenged cities is accomplished with a return-on-investment mindset for local residents, complementary, accelerating investments from private industry can be expected.

Transformational plans

First, we need partnership and commitment to build transformational city plans. A comprehensive and self-reinforcing plan can serve as an important tool to align a city’s expectations, articulate upcoming changes, establish new role definitions and identify economic opportunities for everyone. That plan is required to address:

  • Education choices to drive success through a variety of venues that are available within the transformed community or outside, if desired;
  • Housing options that meet basic human dignity and provide wealth creation opportunities at a range of income levels for individuals and families; and that prevent or stabilize currently or near homeless situations;
  • Available skilled employees and employment opportunities, which are required to build stable business entities that will partner on identifying required skills to structure training programs, apprenticeships and other community partnering programs;
  • Health services that are accessible to all and tailored to the range of needs of constituents’ physical and mental well-being including addiction services.

Compete for investment dollars

To get started, New Jersey can establish a statewide, common framework for each city to compete for investment dollars. The starting levels and goals will vary significantly by city, but each of these plan components, taken individually and as a whole, are needed if we truly are committed to transforming our cities and delivering a successful ecosystem for residents, employers and government officials.

Multiyear investment awards, unprecedented in amounts, will be made to those who set aggressive goals and then deliver on pre-defined annual interim goals around each of the established categories above (multiple alternative education options; reasonable housing options along a spectrum of affordability; private industry partnership agreements to deliver a workforce equipped with required skills and capabilities competitive with any other workforce nationwide; widespread health services availability).

Make the first city investments before end of 2021

A clear-minded, impartial leadership team, representing all of New Jersey’s constituents, can collaborate and accelerate the creation of numerous high-performing cities across the state utilizing this $5 billion state investment fund. Time is of the essence so, to name just a few foundational elements: construct the investment decision framework outlined above; to produce a proposal for the investment committee, each city will need incremental, professional resources, along with their community members; and certainly, financial management, performance tracking, and audit functions need to be established prior to the first award.

New Jersey can deliver on promises to create a more economically fair and socially just state that will create wealth for everyone. If we devote these unexpected billions of dollars strategically, and support both the individuals bearing the burden of our onerous current property-tax levels, as well as those communities who are in most need of investments, we can truly create a stronger and fairer future for all.

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