Business group leaders come down hard on Murphy’s proposed budget

New Jersey Chamber of Commerce head Tom Bracken and New Jersey Business & Industry Association leader Michele Siekerka led a group of other business leaders on a Zoom media call to discuss Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed nine-month budget for 2020-21.

They weren’t happy.

Bracken and Siekerka led a chorus of comments that felt the governor’s budget was hurtful to the business community — and thus will hurt the state’s future. They feel the budget lacks the fiscal responsibility the state needs and doesn’t do enough to help job creators.

Darryl Isherwood, a spokesperson for the administration, said the governor fully supports the business community — and has shown it in his actions.

“Through the state (Economic Development Authority) and other sources, the administration has awarded more than $125 million in grants, guarantees and low- or no-interest loans to the business community,” Isherwood told ROI-NJ.

“To say the governor is not supporting the business community is reckless and off base. The governor understands the needs of the business community, but also understands that, without additional revenue to offset the ravages of the pandemic, our state has little chance of recovery.”

With that in mind, here are some of the best comments from the morning event by Bracken, Siekerka and Ralph Thomas, the head of the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants.

We need a plan

“We currently have businesses struggling to survive, business closures happening every day. We have the second-highest unemployment rate in the country. And, alarmingly, we have no plan to begin a revival. Not only do we have no plan, but there is hardly any discussion of our economic crisis, which gives you the impression that the administration doesn’t think it exists.” — Bracken

Can’t tax our way out of this

“This is not the time to try to tax our way out of this. Typical businesses, when they’re in this situation, they look at how do you reduce costs? How do you become more efficient in what you’re doing? The focus seems to be on starting up new programs. And, in a situation that we’re in like today, that’s not the route that you want to take.” — Thomas

We need an aggressive attack

“We need an aggressive attack on our economic crisis, similar to the one employed to control our medical crisis, if we hope to avoid taking our current economic devastation to new depths. We’ve all been pleading for that because the survival of our state is at risk.

“So, what has been the response to that? A budget that drives more nails in the business coffins by proposing more taxes on job creators, aggravating our affordability with unnecessary borrowing, adding new spending to further enhance the ‘fairer’ side of the governor’s mission and giving minimal attention to the growing cost of our expensive government infrastructure. There is nothing, and I repeat nothing, in the budget to support our struggling business community.” — Bracken

No new taxes (in good times or bad)

“Now is not the time for more taxes, especially on the exact population affected by the crisis: the job creators. What’s significantly frustrating about the tax discussion and the new taxes being proposed is that Gov. Murphy depends on taxes, no matter what the economic climate. When the economy was good, and revenues were growing naturally, he asked for more taxes, and we warned then, ‘If you’re taxing in a good economy, what are you going to do in the event of a crisis?’ And here we are, the economy’s revenue is down, and now he asks for more taxes. Will there ever be a recognition that enough is enough for the most taxed state in the nation?” — Siekerka

Just say ‘No’ to borrowing

“About the prospect of $4 billion in borrowing, 63% of our members oppose that. And only 28% are somewhat supportive of borrowing. When you when you look at the fact that CPAs pretty much touch every constituency here in the state, who has a better pulse read on how the business community and individuals were feeling about today’s situation here in New Jersey?” — Thomas

Business is being ignored

“The needs of our business community have been and continue to be ignored and dismissed. And the proposed budget is the poster child for that. Our economy is in horrible shape. But the administration seems to be in denial of that, as evidenced by the budget. We cannot tax our way out of this crisis. We cannot spend our way out of this crisis. And we cannot borrow our way out of this crisis.

“We need a restart budget that gets us on a path to recovery. One that answers the needs of the business community, one that welcomes businesses to stay, grow and come to the state in New Jersey, and one that puts citizens back to work quickly, which, by the way, is the best solution to helping our middle class.” — Bracken

Use the surplus

“Gov. Murphy deserves credit for his efforts to increase the surplus. But a budget surplus is designed to provide a cushion for unexpected events, like the one we find ourselves in today. And it’s interesting, in the midst of our rainy day, our surplus still continues to go up and is not being used in any way to help people of New Jersey that are hurting right now.

“After going through a once-in-a-lifetime health and economic crisis, the proposed surplus is actually $900 million higher than it was when we entered fiscal year 2020. That increase is almost equivalent to the increase in taxes. So, if the surplus remains at $1.3 billion, there’s no need for the new taxes.” — Siekerka

Help from the Legislature?

“I think that we have legislators looking at this budget, not in exactly the way we are, but with some caution. And understanding the realities of what we’re talking about, about borrowing, taxing and adding new programs at a time when the state just can’t afford itself. I think we have some receptive ears in the Legislature, but, obviously, time will prove us right or wrong.” — Siekerka

Budget alterations needed

“We need this proposed budget to be dramatically altered if we have any hope to regain our economic recovery that will benefit all our citizens in the best possible way, which are reviving our economy, creating more jobs, growing our revenue base to adequately fund our essential services, which are the keys to enabling us to regain the label of a great state living work.” — Bracken

Final word: The next steps

“We all need to keep in mind that it is the job creators that will drive the economic comeback. And we need a budget that will enable the job creators to get our workforce back to work. Because what that does is it gets people off about employment, it creates revenue to the state. Great businesses make great communities. That’s how the economy flourishes and thrives. And that’s what we’re looking for. Let’s enable those job creators with a responsible budget.” — Siekerka