With each New Year, we must take stock of past accomplishments and turn our sights to future challenges. There is no doubt that our economy is struggling, and if past history is an indicator for New Jersey, we will emerge stronger. New Jerseyans are all feeling the pinch. The economic turmoil is devastating much more than just our bottom lines—but also it is our jobs, our homes, and our college and retirement savings that are endangered.
In 2008, New Jersey lost a total of 59,800 jobs—the biggest one-year loss since 1991, leaving New Jersey with a 7.1 percent unemployment rate. In order to spur job growth and create a business friendly environment, I was proud to sponsor InvestNJ, a $120 million incentive-based program, created to encourage New Jersey businesses to grow their operation during these tough economic times. Incentives include offering $3,000 grants to businesses for each new job created and retained for one year and Capital Investment Grants awarding up to one million dollars toward new construction, equipment and renovation.
In addition, in 2008, 48,000 New Jersey homeowners received foreclosure notices with rates expected to rise in 2009. In an effort to help homeowners in the 19th Legislative District, my office formalized a partnership with Faith Fellowship in Sayreville and the Puerto Rican Association for Human Development in Perth Amboy to counsel homeowners facing foreclosure. Both organizations are staffed with certified housing counselors to help homeowners stay in their homes. If you have fallen behind on mortgage payments, I urge you to seek mediation. Act now before it is too late by calling my district office for more information.
As such, I am cautiously optimistic for our state since we have a Democratic Legislature that is keenly aware of the present and future struggles that average New Jerseyans are experiencing or will experience over the coming year. Nevertheless, New Jersey is experiencing a seven percent reduction of violent crime, an expansion of the Senior Freeze on property taxes for an additional 70,000 senior households, and a national ranking by Education Week as a top five system in overall performance and number two ranking in providing a chance for our high school graduates to succeed in life.
As a member of the Assembly Budget Committee, I will have a hand in constructing a fiscally sound state budget. Frankly, our decisions will not be easy. With already $1.4 billion cut from our current budget and with the potential for more cuts in March, we will do our best to hold the line on property taxes while cutting spending throughout state government. We truly have to do more with less.
And finally, currently, Congress is debating the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the economic stimulus package. It is projected that New Jersey will receive up to $5 billion in assistance from the federal government toward programs such as Medicaid, Unemployment Insurance, and infrastructure projects such as highways and school construction. It is estimated that the economic stimulus package will create nearly 106,000 jobs in New Jersey.
From Washington to Trenton, we have the right team in place to help us recover from this global recession. However, as I applaud New Jersey for its many outstanding accomplishments, I cannot overlook the magnitude of difficulties our state will endure this year. As the legislature echoes Governor Corzine’s pledge to make the economy priority number one, priority number two, and priority number three, we must roll up our sleeves and do the people’s work. Together, we will position ourselves to hit the ground running once again, when the recession is over.
In an effort to educate the residents of the 19th legislative district, I am proud to announce that my office will be hosting Community Outreach Day – wherein many government programs and services will be available to the public. I strongly encourage that you and your friends and family join us on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2009, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Raritan Bay Area YMCA, located at 365 New Brunswick Avenue in Perth Amboy.
Please feel free to contact my office at 276 Hobart Street, Perth Amboy, 732-324-5955 or via e-mail at AsmVas@njleg.org, should you have any questions, concerns or proposals regarding legislative matters.