Economic slump gets NJ lawmakers' attention

September 22, 2008 4:37:45 AM PDT
Last week's upheaval on Wall Street has New Jersey lawmakers taking steps to gauge its effect on state residents and help manage the fallout. The Assembly Labor Committee has invited residents and experts to the Statehouse on Monday to testify about how the financial crisis is effecting them and the economy. It marks the Legislature's first attempt to grasp the depth of its impact in New Jersey.

"Failing banks and bailouts are effecting New Jersey residents, and it is imperative that we ensure that there are programs and policies set in place here to protect our working families," said Assemblyman Joseph Egan, a Middlesex County Democrat who chairs the labor panel.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jon Corzine will convene an emergency economic forum on Monday to address the national financial crisis. The governor plans to assemble representatives from business and labor to map out a comprehensive plan of action.

"To stand still is to fall behind," Corzine said Friday. "We need action, and we need it now."

The Senate Budget Committee has scheduled an Oct. 6 hearing on the national recession's impact on New Jersey's revenues and investments. Committee Chairwoman Barbara Buono said it's important to put the status of the economy in perspective.

"It's no secret that the economy is in trouble," said Buono, D-Middlesex. "We need to hear from leading economic voices to give state residents an idea of how much longer they're going to need to weather the current economic crisis - and what New Jersey can do to help get them through the storm."

Buono said if lawmakers can allay some of residents fears about the economy and the state's ability to deal with the recession, that could help restore consumer confidence and alleviate some sales tax revenue losses.

Lawmakers from both houses jumped on Sen. Stephen Sweeney's recent call for an emergency economic summit to address the impact of the recession on New Jersey's workers and businesses.

"New Jersey's unemployment rate is rising. Financial titans who employ thousands of our residents are collapsing. Home foreclosures are skyrocketing," said Sweeney. "We need the best and brightest to come together and figure out how to protect our workers and businesses during this crisis."

The Cumberland County Democrat said the Legislature should convene a round-table of experts from "across various sectors and disciplines," including economists, business and higher education leaders, labor officials and senior administration staff.

"With all the talk about bailing out the financial giants, I haven't heard enough about how we're going to help workers who are just trying to pay their mortgages and grocery bills," Sweeney said. "And what about small businesses struggling to make the next payroll?"

By last Thursday, leaders in the Senate and Assembly were both on board.

Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts endorsed the idea, citing New Jersey's 5.9 percent unemployment rate and the effect of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy and Merrill Lynch sale on the state's economy.

"The recent financial troubles have hit bank accounts, ravaged retirement savings, endangered state revenues and left many fearing about what may come next," Roberts said. "We're going to see what we can do to help."

Senate President Richard Codey also expressed his support.

"Current economic policies have created a global and national disaster that will have a severe impact on New Jersey residents," Codey said. "We can't solve this problem by ourselves but we must make sure that we take whatever actions are feasible."


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