They gathered in front of a marina in Jersey City, a backdrop of pleasure craft, big and small, to make the contrast between those of means who are able to maintain a certain lifestyle in the middle of a global pandemic, and the rest of the state — workers deemed essential who are nevertheless facing tough times.
With help from state programs vanishing from an austere budget, a coalition of groups called on the state Legislature to roll back tax breaks they say were given to the wealthy during the previous administration so they can help fund COVID-19 recovery efforts.
“It’s almost 130 days that our communities have been without relief; no money for rent, no income, no money for food, no health care,” said Make the Road NJ organizer Deya Aldana. “And when we call Trenton, what do we hear? There’s no money. We have to make cuts — billions and billions of dollars in cuts. How can this be true? Look behind us. We see all of these boats. Look at all the boats behind us. We are a wealthy state. We are a state of millionaires and billionaires, and we are a state rich with the power of working-class people.”
Demonstrators point out that a 2015 tax break for pleasure craft was a break for wealthy New Jersey boaters at the expense of working families. They say the state could save $15 million a year by restoring the so-called Yacht Tax break alone. They say other tax breaks have helped to widen the gap between the wealthy and the working class.
“We know that it doesn’t have to be this way,” said Amy Torres, a board member of the Hudson County Progressive Alliance. “But we do know that it’s a result of years of neglect, years of political cowardice, and an unwillingness to actually ask the folks who are profiting off of our suffering to pay their fair share, to pay the money that is owed to us as workers, money that should have gone to us as wages. It’s completely abhorrent.”
GOP has different take
But Republican lawmakers see things differently. They say the state is on its way to an insolvent future, not because of tax breaks for wealthy residents, but because of runaway spending on the very types of social programs the demonstrators support.
“The only people we are hurting right now, in a state that is already hurting significantly, are our manufacturers and the people working at these facilities who were all furloughed out of work and are finally getting back on their feet,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi of Bergen County. “And for what? We’re borrowing $10 billion without voter approval right now, circumventing the Constitution, doing something that’s arguably not even legal in this state.”
That’s a reference to the almost $10 billion borrowing authority that lawmakers are about to give Gov. Phil Murphy. Put the 15% across-the-board department cuts the governor has ordered on top of continued unemployment, and the general malaise of the state’s economy and you could conclude that we are all adrift economically, except that some boats are bigger than others.