Bracken: ‘What does this budget do to revitalize our economy?’

Head of N.J. Chamber says there’s a lot to like — but there’s no robust engine that will jump-start business community

Tom Bracken will rattle off a list of positives in the we’ll-never-have-this-much-money fiscal year 2022 budget. Money to help unpaid utility bills and rent … money to reduce some debt … money to help veterans and seniors … money to help with child care, which government officials have finally realized is a big key to having a solid workforce.

The budget bill will even lower an important tax on seniors, increasing the limit on retirement income that is not taxable from $100,000 to $150,000 — a move expected to help 70,000 people.

“There’s a lot of good things in there,” he said. “A lot of mom-and-apple-pie items that everyone can get behind.”

But Bracken, the head of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, is not happy.

“The big glaring miss here is, ‘What does this budget do to revitalize our economy?’” he said. “That is supposed to be the reason we got all this American Rescue Plan money.

“We had an opportunity to really kick off a rebound that could get us back on track. And I just don’t see this budget as being a budget that is going to be that robust engine to kick us off.”

Gov. Phil Murphy, state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) obviously disagree.

They listed economic benefits first, saying the fiscal year 2022 budget will invest in New Jersey’s long-term economic growth by making college more attainable and retirement more affordable.

“In our continued drive to build a more resilient post-pandemic future for our state, this budget lays the foundation for a more affordable New Jersey where everyone has the opportunity to prosper, from young adulthood well into retirement,” Murphy said.

“We’re providing the resources to help parents save to send their children to college, help graduates get a fresh start in life without the crushing burden of student loans and help seniors age in place by guaranteeing more of their hard-earned retirement income.”

Sweeney said the budget reflects one of his top priorities: increasing the affordability of living in the state.

Coughlin said the commitments to make New Jersey more affordable will enable the state to continue to be a place where people can raise children, grow their families and set down life-long roots.

Bracken doesn’t see it.

He said he sees an economy in collapse — and not enough being done to jump-start it today.

“There’s no significant money to help with the ongoing working capital needs of the business community,” he said. “There’s no money for back-to-work bonuses. There’s no money that I can see to help with a lack of workers shortage, which is a major issue right now.”

It’s a missed opportunity, Bracken said. One he feels may never come again.

“There’s just nothing substantive about this that allows the economy to rebound,” he said. That’s the thing that is most disappointing to me.

“This is a very important budget in the history of our state. It’s the opportunity to get us back on track, to take advantage of our assets here to get us on a path to a robust recovery. That was the golden opportunity staring us in the face. And this budget does not do that.”