Sweeney: An agenda of progress for New Jersey


While most analysts and pundits have been speculating about what the results of our elections mean for Gov. Chris Christie’s national political ambitions, the more important question is what the results mean for the people of New Jersey.

The governor won decisively, but Democratic legislative candidates gained triumphant victories as well, and we did it despite the historic margins at the top of the ticket for Republicans.

We reversed the tidal wave by winning every contested Senate race, re-electing all our incumbents, capturing the one open seat, and holding the same 24-seat majority we had before Election Day.

We believe we won on a record of accomplishment that addressed the real needs of middle-class families and working people.

Voters recognized that we have been willing to set politics aside and work across the aisle on issues that put New Jerseyans back to work.

That doesn’t mean we compromise our values and principles. But it does mean we continue to find ways to work together. Some of those areas of key bipartisan solutions include:

• The Economic Opportunity Act, which allows New Jersey to compete for good-paying jobs.

• Teacher tenure reform, which makes it harder to get and easier to lose, but which was supported by the New Jersey Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

• Integrity monitors, which help ensure that the billions of dollars in Sandy relief money are spent without waste or abuse.

• Internet gambling: New Jerseyans are finally able to experience the joy of casino gaming online, or from their own room.

• $750 million in voter-approved bonds to invest in higher-education facilities.

• The New Jersey Medical and Health Science Higher Education Restructuring Act, one of the proudest accomplishments of my career.

A willingness to compromise, however, does not mean compromising our values and principles. The governor refused Democrats’ plan to increase the hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25, tying future increases to the rate of inflation. So we went to the voters with a constitutional amendment that was approved overwhelmingly. We also succeeded on the civil rights issue of marriage equality. We overcame the governor’s opposition and prevailed.

When the governor proposed an income tax cut for the wealthy, we rejected his idea and developed a plan to provide property tax savings for the middle class. Once the state can afford it, we will do it in a responsible way.

Looking ahead, New Jersey must make choices to deal with persistent unemployment, economic stagnancy and unprecedented budgetary pressures. Democrats will push for the restoration of the earned income tax credit, a program that benefits the working poor and for which even President Ronald Reagan was a supporter.

We will call on the state’s millionaires to pay their fair share so that money can be invested back into our communities.

We will work to ensure that towns receive back their portion of energy tax receipts that the state has been grabbing from them for years.

And we will fight to keep our state from falling victim to the same financial gimmicks and political sound bites that doomed us in the 1990s and for which we are still paying for.

We also plan to do more for college affordability and educational excellence. We already moved higher education forward by restructuring the state’s colleges and universities, and we enacted a higher-education bond act to provide the resources to build and expand education facilities.

We are working on ideas to make college more affordable by creating a College Affordability Study Commission — and to combine degree programs between county colleges and state universities.

The Affordable Degree pilot program would provide a low-cost higher education to students to attend their first two years at a county college and complete their education at a four-year institution.

Last year, we announced a partnership between Gloucester County College and Rowan University that accomplishes these goals, and we will seek to do this throughout the state.

Senate Democrats were forceful in pursuing our agenda during the remaining months of the current legislative session and will be just as aggressive for the next session. As the election demonstrated, we are acting with the support of the people of New Jersey.

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