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 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. 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,” said Make the Road NJ organizer Deya Aldana.
Demonstrators point out that a 2015 tax break for pleasure crafts was a break to 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. 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,” said Amy Torres, Hudson County Progressive Alliance board member.
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 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. 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,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi.
That’s the $10 billion borrowing authority lawmakers are about to give the governor. Put the 15% across the board department cuts the governor has ordered on top of continued unemployment, and the general economic malaise of the state’s economy and you could conclude that we are all adrift economically, except that some boats are bigger than others.