Now that N.J. is getting $13B in federal infrastructure money, here’s how Legislature can double down on economy

Last week, President Joe Biden signed into law the landmark infrastructure legislation that is scheduled to send about $13 billion to New Jersey to help fix and upgrade our roads, bridges, mass transit, sewer and water piping and high-speed internet networks.

This infusion of money will go a long way toward kick-starting New Jersey’s economy.

Now, with the Legislature back in session, it is time for our state leaders to double down on Congress’ infrastructure investment in New Jersey by releasing a substantial portion of the reported $4 billion remaining in the American Rescue Plan relief fund to help our many struggling businesses get back on their feet.

This $4 billion sits inexplicably untouched and unspent, even though the money was sent to New Jersey months ago by Congress to expressly combat the COVID-19 health crisis and support an economic recovery.

The business community desperately needs that financial assistance to survive and enhance job creation.

Many of our neighboring states have already made strategic business investments of their American Rescue Plan dollars, putting New Jersey into an even less competitive position than before the pandemic.

The American Rescue Plan money should be used to:

  • Provide grants to businesses still struggling from the pandemic-fueled recession;
  • Supplement Gov. Phil Murphy’s “Return and Earn” program, which provides back-to-work bonuses to employees and workforce development dollars to help alleviate worker shortages;
  • Replenish the state’s Unemployment Insurance Fund so the people of New Jersey can continue to rely on it, and employers aren’t socked with more tax increases to fill the fund.

Imagine the impact on our state economy if we let loose a significant amount of the American Rescue Plan money to help New Jersey’s businesses and a $13 billion investment in our infrastructure simultaneously. It would be a double shot of adrenaline for our state economy.

So, where do we go from here?

The New Jersey Chamber of Commerce believes three things need to be done.

First, we urge our state legislators not to use the current lame-duck session to advance “pet” or personal projects and stay focused on helping constituents in dire need of financial help — namely, the business community.

Second, legislators should heed the message voters sent on Election Day — a message encapsulated by the Monmouth University Poll taken just before Election Day in which voters identified taxes, jobs and the economy as their top issues. There is no faster or more effective way to respond to these voters’ concerns than to release American Relief Fund aid.

Third, we need to ensure the federal infrastructure dollars are released to New Jersey in a timely fashion and that we allocate the dollars wisely to ensure the maximum positive impact on our economy and on our quality of life.

Exactly how that can be done will be a topic at the chamber’s ReNew Jersey Business Summit, April 13-14 in Atlantic City.

At the summit, we will bring together subject experts from business, politics, education, labor and nonprofits to discuss how New Jersey can achieve a full-throttle economic recovery. One of the critical issues we will discuss is how to best manage our infrastructure investments.

We have a rare opportunity for Washington and Trenton to march in lockstep to help New Jersey revitalize its economy.

It is up to our legislators to make it happen and it is up to us to ensure they do.

Tom Bracken is CEO and president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce​.