Op-Ed: Our veterans need NJ to catch up with NY, other states

Lt. Gen. Frank Libutti | August 23, 2021 | Opinion
Disabled veterans aren’t looking for handouts, they’re looking for opportunities — particularly if they own businesses
Lt. Gen. Frank Libutti

Much has been made of the competition between New York and New Jersey. I know it firsthand, having been born in Trenton but raised on Long Island before joining the Marine Corps.

I’ve been fortunate enough to serve our country and lead some great corporations, including one right here in New Jersey. Reflecting on my experience as the president and CEO of a service-disabled, veteran-owned small business based in New Jersey, there is one area where I hope to see New Jersey improve.

New Jersey has had a 3% disabled veteran’s business set-aside for contracts by state contracting agencies as public law since 2015. However, according to the New Jersey State Veterans Chamber of Commerce, of the 72 state agencies that have procurement power, only a few have actually awarded contracts to disabled-veteran-owned businesses. Also, none of those 72 state agencies have filed annual reports on their plans for achieving their disabled-veteran-owned business goals, and they do not report the total dollar value and number of contracts awarded annually to disabled-veteran-owned businesses. Both of those requirements are written into the law.

Compare that with what New York is doing for its veteran-business community: As of last year, the state of New York spent more than $149 million on contracts with disabled-veteran-owned businesses. What did New Jersey spend? According to estimates by the NJSVCC, only about $2 million. New York also has a 6% goal compared with New Jersey’s 3% set-aside goal. And New York publishes annual reports detailing planned and actual spending on veteran-owned businesses for every single state agency. Our nearest neighbor has made long strides in supporting the veteran community and has set a great example of what can be accomplished in New Jersey.

We are told that veterans’ organizations, led by the NJSVCC, have met with Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin to remedy this situation but, so far, no action has been taken. We understand they have also reached out numerous times to the governor’s office only to be met with phone calls saying he is not available to speak on the issue. The same has happened, we are told, in efforts to reach Senate President Steve Sweeney. Some veterans fear that elected officials only care about our community around Memorial Day and Veterans Day, or if it is an election year. There are thousands of veteran-owned businesses that need New Jersey’s help. Now.

Veterans are not looking for handouts. We are looking for opportunities.

Take into consideration that in 13 states, the law grants disabled-veteran-owned businesses a 10% price preference when bidding on public contracts. Those states are driving economic inclusion for their veterans’ communities. In New Jersey, a similar bill passed at the committee level, but has stalled in the Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committees, which means it is likely to just go away. Meanwhile, New Jersey’s disabled-veteran-owned businesses anxiously await this legislation in order to allow them to be competitive in open bidding.

Veterans have an incredible work ethic and unsurpassed tenacity. We will keep fighting until the mission is accomplished. We hope the governor and state lawmakers realize our sacrifice and do their part. We were told that since this is an election year, it will be nearly impossible to get legislation passed. This is a foreign concept for veterans. When we need to complete a mission, we do.

Rest assured, veterans will continue to do their part in protecting our fellow Americans and preserving our values. All we ask is that our state, the great state of New Jersey, now protects its promise to its veterans.

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