Looking Back At 2008’s Successes

Inside_the_StatehouseBy Joseph Vas

As 2008 quickly comes to an end, and with the holidays upon us, it is important that we give thanks for all that we have been able to achieve. There is no doubt that the tough economic climate has affected every facet of our lives. I am proud of the Legislature’s success in moving our state forward, notwithstanding the tough hurdles that we have been forced to overcome. During the past year, the Legislature has been working diligently to undertake the challenges that many would not envy. There is much that has been accomplished in which we can take great pride.   

As Chairman of the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee, I am proud of an economic package that will help those homeowners who are one payment away from facing foreclosure, and will ease business taxes through the creation of new business grants. I am also proud of the heating and property tax relief being offered for disabled and elderly citizens. 

When faced with a burgeoning economic recession, we took action – advancing numerous measures that will help protect our state’s economic engine and shore up New Jersey businesses as the global economic climate continues to fluctuate. Specifically, in the General Assembly, we supported cutting business taxes by $275 million; strengthened the state’s Unemployment Trust Fund and avoided a $350 million business tax increase, and passed the Permit Extension Act of 2008 that extends all permits and approvals granted to businesses by the government for up to four years.

Furthermore in this effort, my office has also been very proactive in helping the 1500 residents in the 19th legislative district that are currently facing foreclosure. Recently, my office has joined in a partnership with Faith Fellowship Ministries in Sayreville and the Puerto Rican Association for Human Development in Perth Amboy in providing foreclosure mitigation and educating homeowners on the options they have in an effort to salvage their homes. We are also working with PRAHD, a non-profit organization that has served the residents of Middlesex County for over 35 years, in becoming HUD-certified in an effort to provide this service to the Spanish speaking community of the district. 

This summer, we leveled the playing field for all New Jersey families with the recent overhaul of our State’s affordable housing rules, that will allow families to live where they want, not where the wealthy towns say they must. 

When faced with record energy prices, a need to reduce our fossil fuel dependence and concern over our contributions to global warming, we took action – supporting the Governor’s energy plan. Specifically, we committed to making 30 percent of our energy consumption come from renewable sources by 2020, and we are working to create nearly 60,000 new “green-collar” jobs – jobs in industry that have a positive environmental impact – in the fields of solar power, wind power, and mass transit infrastructure.

And, when faced with the prospect of budget shortfalls caused by the souring economy, we took action – reducing the size of state government by roughly $3 billion and spending taxpayer dollars more efficiently, cutting overall spending by $600 million. These historical budget cuts mark only the fourth time in the last half-century that state spending actually decreased from one year to the next. We also prepared and are ready to implement contingency plans that could further cut state spending over the remainder of the fiscal year and are taking steps to improve the efficiency of state departments.

As a member of the Assembly Education Committee, I am proud of our new School Funding Formula, which replaced an unpredictable ad-hoc system of state aid. I am especially pleased to announce that our own school districts within the 19th legislative district will benefit from this formula by receiving a total of $210 million for the 2008-09 school year, amounting to an increase of $22,938,000 from the prior school year. The outcome of this formula is to make sure that each child is receiving a thorough and efficient education, no matter where they live in the State. 

Special recognition should be given to the Kennedy Park Elementary School No. 24 in Woodbridge Township, for being one of nine schools in the State of New Jersey, and one of 320 schools nationally that were recognized for the 2008 No Child Left Behind-Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. 

Lastly, one of my most fulfilling experiences this year was participating in the 10th Annual National Legislators-Go-Back-to-School Program that has been a huge success. To date, I have visited 21 schools throughout the 19th legislative district since the beginning of the school year. I have talked to nearly 2,000 students of varying ages, who all share an enthusiasm for learning and welcome the opportunity to discuss the pressing issues of the day. The students’ intelligence and willingness to learn have left me confident that our country will be in good hands for years to come. As a Legislator, I can honestly say that I have been enriched by the experience of hearing from so many young people in our district. 

With all that said and done, we have done our best to serve the interests of all the residents of the 19th legislative district and of the great State of New Jersey. I wish each and every single one of you a very happy and healthy holiday season and a prosperous New Year. 

Please do not hesitate to contact me at my district office should you have any questions or concerns. I may be reached at 276 Hobart Street, Perth Amboy, New Jersey 08861. Telephone: (732) 324-5955. Email: AsmVas@njleg.org.

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