Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono is unveiling her economic plan for New Jersey. She told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that a major piece of her plan is to retrain workers to be competitive in the global marketplace and invest in institutions of higher learning to help create jobs in the state.
She is also a critic of the state awarding a contract to rebuild portions of the Pulaski Skyway to a construction firm with ties to China. “I was very much in support of the legislation that prohibited New Jersey from doing business with those who invested in Iran and I happen to be Jewish as well,” Buono said. “And so it has a bit more of a personal implication for me as well.”
The Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund is accepting a donation from the United Arab Emirates to help with hurricane recovery. Buono said she hadn’t heard about the donation but said she would look into the matter before commenting.
Buono said her five-plank economic plan aims to create jobs and a thriving middle class in New Jersey. The focus is to reinvest in current workers by retraining them and making sure they have the skills to be competitive since there will be higher skilled jobs in the future. “It also involves taking advantage of our assets and also … investing in our institutions of higher learning, our colleges, our universities, focusing on our county colleges and vocational schools as a way to retrain our workers for the jobs that are in demand,” she said.
Raising the minimum wage is another initiative Buono supports. “I think it’s an embarrassment that we live in one of the highest cost of living states in the nation and there are 19 other states that have a higher minimum wage than we do,” she said. “People living on the minimum wage, so many still have to rely on public assistance, they live in public housing, rely on food stamps, people that are actually working but can’t make ends meet because this minimum wage is not about living, it’s about subsisting, it’s about existing.”
Many in the business world have said an increase in the minimum wage would hurt the state economically, but Buono disagrees. “There are experts that have the polar opposite opinion on that, that in fact it will put more money in people’s pockets,” she said. “It will be income that people unfortunately can’t afford to save and they will be spending it on the necessaries, on clothing their children, on paying their rent. So indeed I think it will actually grow the economy.”
Buono wants to focus on a sustainable economic plan for urban areas in New Jersey. She said they are some of the hardest hit in terms of unemployment, citing Newark as an example because it has an unemployment rate twice the national average. She criticized Gov. Chris Christie for not working to improve the urban areas, like his economic plan had laid out.
“His only plan has been to actually give credits to large corporations to the tune of about $2.1 billion. And where has it left us? It’s left us at the bottom of the barrel, number 43 in terms of job creation,” Buono said. “Now there was just an article out the other day that shows New Jersey is one of the 10 worst states to do business in. And so we need to invest in our cities.”
Buono proposes to create an urban investment bank, which she said some immigrant communities have done. She cited the Indian Business Association in Iselin, which formed its own bank with investments, which was eventually federally insured. “Bottom line is we need to think outside of the box. We need to come up with creative solutions to draw private investment into New Jersey’s economy so that it’ll grow,” she said.
According to Buono, the wave of the future is linking colleges and universities with emerging markets like pharmaceutical and biotech. “One of the planks — it’s actually based on legislation that was passed and this governor vetoed — it would facilitate those partnerships so that those emerging markets come to New Jersey because they know they’re gonna have the research done in the universities and colleges,” she said. “And then in turn it’s a win-win. It trains and educates and prepares our kids to have those good paying jobs when they graduate.”
The latest Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll has found that one-third of New Jerseyans say they’re better off financially than they were a year ago and 51 percent expect their economic situations to improve. Buono said people are still struggling with 400,000 out of work, the middle class has shrunk under Christie and property taxes are at a record high, rising 20 percent in Christie’s first year as governor.
“People aren’t focused on the economic issues now. Come Labor Day, when the traditional start of the campaign begins, they will be focused on economic issues,” Buono said. “People are struggling. They’re not focused on the election. They’re not focused on anything but making sure that they have a job, that they can clothe and feed their kids and it’s a struggle here in New Jersey.”
To help explain the poll numbers, Buono said, “New Jerseyans are tenacious, we’re resilient, we’re tough. And we have a positive attitude. And I think that that’s what’s reflected in that poll.”