My Plan to Fund Our Community

By James Solomon — Jersey City Councilperson, Ward E

President Biden’s American Rescue Plan provides Jersey City with a historic opportunity to invest in our community. Instead of catastrophic cuts, the American Rescue Plan (ARP) allows Jersey City to provide short-term relief to homeowners, arts organizations, and small businesses battered by the pandemic while making long-term investments to build an equitable and sustainable Jersey City.

Below, I will lay out a detailed vision for how we can maximize this money’s impact across Jersey City. These investments will touch every corner of our city and address our most pressing challenges. Just as crucially, safeguards must be put in place to spend the money in a responsible and transparent way that actually addresses the needs of the community, not lining the pockets of the politically connected.

How Should Jersey City Invest its Money?

Jersey City will receive $72.9M this spring with an additional $72.9M next year from the ARP. The money must be spent by the end of 2024. My plan to invest in our community calls for immediate relief and long-term investment:

Short-Term Relief for a Community Battered by the Pandemic

  • Provide immediate relief for taxpayers
  • Fund Jersey City Public Schools through the payroll tax
  • Aid to arts and small business
  • Support Jersey City’s vaccine rollout and outreach efforts

Long-term investments to build an equitable and sustainable city.

  • Invest in communities to stop violence
  • Fund the construction of “rain garden bumpouts” at unsafe intersections to make pedestrians safer, reduce flooding, and make our neighborhoods beautiful

Goal: Short-Term Relief for a Community Battered by the Pandemic

Step 1: Provide immediate relief for taxpayers

Jersey City homeowners face a triple-whammy: lost income from the pandemic, tax increases to fund our public schools, and a secret $16M tax slipped onto their water bills.

We must provide them with immediate relief in two ways.

First, end the water tax. The ARP provides multiple paths for Jersey City to fund to the Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA). The MUA should use that money to end the water tax. The MUA imposed the water tax this fall in an attempt to hide a tax increase from the public in an election year. Above and beyond the lack of transparency, the tax harms working families. It forces a family in a $200K home to pay the same as a family in a $1M home. It should end.

Second, replace lost revenue in the budget to fund core government services. While not sexy, this is the “meat and potatoes” of government. Jersey City lost at least ten million in pre-pandemic revenue, and potentially more. We should use the ARP money to make up for that lost revenue to prevent tax increases and/or cuts to government services.

Step 2: Fund Jersey City Public Schools through the payroll tax

Jersey City’s government guaranteed $85M to the Jersey City Public Schools through the payroll tax before the pandemic. After COVID hit, and businesses suffered, payroll tax revenue dropped by $20M. I don’t think overtaxed home owners, or children in already underfunded schools, should be asked to pick up the slack. Jersey City should use the ARP to honor its original $85 commitment. The $20M in funding this year and $10M next year for the public schools could be used to fund summer learning loss programming, after-school enrichment, and mental health counselors for our youth.

Step 3: Aid to the Arts and Small Businesses

Arts organizations and small businesses have been battered by the pandemic, forced to close their doors to keep all of us safe. These organizations are the heart and soul of downtown Jersey City. They are hanging on by a thread, and we cannot afford to lose them. Jersey City should create a fund to provide grants to any organization, business, or individual artist that can demonstrate a significant loss of income due to the pandemic. Unlike Jersey City’s approach to prior aid packages, to ensure the awards are fair and apolitical, a committee of community leaders, not politicians, should determine the grant awardees.

Step 4: Support Jersey City’s vaccine rollout and outreach efforts

Get shots into arms as quickly as possible. In the coming weeks, our vaccine challenge will shift 180 degrees — from not enough shots to not enough arms. The ARP can fund a comprehensive outreach campaign where community members connect with each other to overcome vaccine hesitancy by educating each other on the importance and safety of vaccines.

Goal: Long-term investments to build an equitable and sustainable city.

Step 1: Invest in underserved communities to stop violence

Last summer, community leaders from the South Side of Jersey City called for major investments in their neighborhoods, the very communities most impacted by violence. I heard their call, and fought for a $5M investment in the 2020 budget. Instead the political machine delivered a budget that cut recreation, health and human services, and other core government services over their and my objections.

The ARP offers a unique opportunity to heed their call: the ability to make a historic investment without taking money from any other part of the budget. I am calling for a $20M investment over the next four years to non-profits organizations that offer community-led anti-violence initiatives, youth mentoring, recreation opportunities, and legal counsel to prevent evictions. By funding non-profits through a competitive RFP process, we will keep the political machine from diverting this money to its patronage mill. Instead it will go directly into the communities that need it most.

Decades of research demonstrate the power of this type of investment to make people safer. Violence interrupters have reduced gun violence by over 50% in cities across the country. In Chicago, a mentoring and cognitive behavior therapy program reduced young men’s participation in violence by 50%. Simply repurposing abandoned lots into community spaces reduced violence in Philadelphia by 30% in the neighborhoods near those lots. Jersey City can make similar investments to produce similar reductions in violence.

Step 2: Fund the construction of “rain gardens” at unsafe intersections to make pedestrians safer, reduce flooding, and make our neighborhoods beautiful.

Constructing rain gardens at dangerous intersections delivers two core benefits: the bump-outs improve pedestrian safety and the gardens reduce flooding. These permanent structures can replace the effective, but ugly, bump-outs quickly built across the city. The ARP explicitly authorizes spending for water infrastructure; Jersey City should seize this opportunity to build for a sustainable future.

Conclusion

The American Rescue Act should put an end to the cynical talking point that local elected leaders should not discuss national politics. Without President Biden, without New Jersey’s Democratic senators Booker and Menendez, and without a Democratic House of Representatives, Jersey City would be facing millions of dollars in devastating service cuts and tax increases. I am grateful to everyone who fought to elect our current leaders, who delivered this much needed aid. Because of them, Jersey City has a historic opportunity to fund the community; to provide relief to struggling neighbors while building the equitable and sustainable future our city deserves.

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