NJ Budget Approved; Facebook Election Integrity; Major Transit Investments; NJ’s First In-person Conference

NorthStar Strategies TrueNorth Insights

We recap a busy September in this edition of TrueNorth. Governor Phil Murphy signs the budget for the nine-month FY2021. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announces significant steps the social media giant is taking to protect our democracy during the election season. The Murphy Administration and NJ TRANSIT breaks ground on projects that will help tens of thousands of daily riders. And a prominent industry trade association holds New Jersey’s first in-person conference since COVID-19 restrictions began to lift.

NJ’s FY2021 Budget Signed

On Tuesday New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed the FY2021 Appropriations Act, enacting a $32.7 billion, nine-month budget. Murphy signed the budget in advance of the budget deadline that was extended from June 30th to September 30th due to COVID-19. The approved plan addresses spending for the nine-month period from October 1st through June 30th of 2021. The budget closes a funding gap of roughly $5 billion caused by plummeting State revenues due to COVID-19. The budget incorporates elements touted by Murphy as providing important benefits for middle and working-class families. This includes enactment of a millionaires’ tax, one of Murphy’s long-sought priorities. The tax rate on income of $1 million and over will increase to 10.75% from 8.97%. The budget also includes tax rebates of up to $500 for roughly 800,000 working class families across the State. The budget sets the corporate business tax (CBT) at 11.5%, making it the highest in the nation in 2021. It also increases assessments on HMO premiums from 3% to 5%.

The balanced budget relies on $4.5 billion in bonding. Murphy and legislative leaders presented this borrowing as necessary in order to avoid draconian cuts to vital services and programs. They argued that it was allowed under New Jersey’s Constitution which authorizes deficit spending under emergency circumstances. Republicans challenged this argument and New Jersey’s Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of the Governor.

The budget was decried by Republicans and business groups concerned about impacts on New Jersey’s economy, flight of companies and wealthy residents, and the State’s indebtedness.

Facebook Election Integrity Initiatives

Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently announced additional steps the social media giant is taking to help secure the integrity of the US elections by encouraging voting, connecting people to authoritative information, and reducing the risks of post-election confusion.

Facebook is taking the following specific steps:

  • Won’t accept new political ads in the week before the election. 
  • Will remove posts that claim that people will get COVID-19 if they take part in voting, and will attach a link to authoritative information about the coronavirus to posts that might use COVID-19 to discourage voting.
  • Will attach an informational label to content that seeks to delegitimize the outcome of the election or discuss the legitimacy of voting methods, for example, by claiming that lawful methods of voting will lead to fraud. 
  • If any candidate or campaign tries to declare victory before the final results are in, Facebook will add a label to their posts directing people to the official results from Reuters and the National Election Pool.

Read Mark’s full post here.

NJ TRANSIT spends big on system-wide rebuild

NJ TRANSIT recently unveiled a five-year $17 billion capital program designed and intended to upgrade and rehabilitate the vast network of tracks, bridges, stations and depots under its care.  The largest statewide transit system in the nation accompanied this capital program with its first ever ten-year strategic plan that lays out its mission to improve all facets of its operation.

Analysis of the new capital program by the Rutgers-CAIT Institute concludes that the new program will generate $55 billion in economic output and $15 billion in earnings for New Jersey employees.

NJ TRANSIT has not wasted time moving ahead with major projects in the plan.  Engineering work to replace the 110-year old Portal North Bridge in Kearney is proceeding and efforts to secure the necessary federal funding match are making significant headway.

In South Amboy, Governor Murphy, Board Chair Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti and CEO Kevin Corbett recently broke ground on the $600 million replacement of the 112-year old Raritan River Bridge.  Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez, and representatives for contractors and engineering firms including ACECNJ President (and NorthStar CEO) Joe Fiordaliso were also on hand to kick off the four-year construction project.

The best way to reform NJ TRANSIT is churning out capital projects that repair and upgrade the tracks, stations and bridges comprising its inventory. Corbett and Gutierrez-Scaccetti have embraced this approach. In 2017, NJ TRANSIT had only $60 million in hard money contracts. Since 2018, it has $2.3 BILLION in capital projects underway or soon to enter procurement, not including Portal North estimated at $1.8 billion. Including Portal brings the total to over $4 billion in investment that will upgrade infrastructure, improve reliability and the customer experience, and drive New Jersey’s economy.

ACECNJ holds NJ’s first in-person conference

An in-person keynote address by New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti punctuated the American Council of Engineering Companies’ Fall Conference in Atlantic City in late September.

COVID-19 caused ACECNJ to re-imagine this annual conference as a hybrid event that included in-person as well as virtual activities and sessions. The in-person portion of the conference was held outdoors under tended space at the Chelsea Tower of Tropicana Atlantic City.

Participants appreciated ACECNJ’s commitment to a safe in-person conference that brought people together and provided a welcome respite from the virtual meetings that have predominated for the past six months. To our knowledge this is the only in-person event of this scale in New Jersey since COVID-19 restrictions began to lift, and it is likely to be the only in-person conference opportunity for the remainder of 2020.

This conference was made possible through the support of ACECNJ’s Executive Committee led by Glen Kartalis of AECOM and the expertise of the team led by NorthStar Strategies COO Jody Herkloz, Director of Association Management Gabrielle Liguori and Director of Meeting & Event Management James Selle.