New Jersey Future, a nonpartisan think tank, has a few ideas for the next governor of New Jersey, whether that turns out to be Democrat Phil Murphy, Republican Kim Guadagno, or someone else entirely. At its annual Redevelopment Forum earlier in March, the group released a plan for growing the state economy.
“Understanding that if the next governor is to set New Jersey back on a path to robust growth, he or she will need to address the state’s most challenging problems — high housing costs, crumbling infrastructure, a neglected transit system, the state’s increasing vulnerability to climate change, and a growing fiscal crisis — the recommendations focus on ways to streamline and coordinate both governance and investment, and to empower communities with the information, tools, and incentives they need, in order to maximize growth,” the group said in a press release.
Among its recommendations:
Investments in infrastructure, to modernize transportation and water systems to promote economic activity.
Specifically, the report recommends funding transit operations. NJ Future notes that in 2015, direct state subsidy to NJ Transit was slashed more than 90 percent, forcing the public transportation system to cut its capital spending in order to pay for operations. NJ Future predicted that transit will be even more important in the coming years because of the changing preferences of workers — younger people prefer to live in cities rather than suburbs, where dependable and reliable public transit is of great importance.
Although transportation normally dominates the discussion, the water supply is an equally important aspect of infrastructure, according to the report. It calls New Jersey’s cities “plagued by aging, deteriorating water infrastructure” and grappling with problems with combined sewer overflows, loss of water through leaky pipes, chronic local flooding, lead in school drinking water, and water main breaks.
Modernizing the drinking water and stormwater systems would boost the economy as well as public health, the report says. To pay for the needed upgrades, NJ Future recommends using public-private partnerships as well as a state bank.
Support local redevelopment efforts to help cities and towns adapt to the 21st-century economy. NJ Future wants the state to provide technical and financial resources to municipalities to promote compact, walkable development, to support transit-oriented development, and to adopt a housing policy that would provide homes for families of all ages and income levels.
“Vibrant communities, with transportation choices and walkable neighborhoods, are no longer simply nice destinations; they are an important draw for companies and they foster economic growth, prosperity, and positive health outcomes for the state,” the report says. “Health studies show that a half-hour walk a day translates into $2,500 in health cost savings per year, while obesity and diabetes rates are lower in the most walkable communities.”
The group found that all kinds of benefits can be derived from smart growth policies. Center-based, dense development, for example, provides 10 times more tax revenue per acre than conventional suburban development, and walkable urban areas are more productive and desirable than car-centric counterparts in the suburbs.
The report blamed local and state zoning codes for a lack of affordable housing that has given New Jersey the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of millennials living with their parents, at 47 percent.
Acknowledge climate change to allow the state to plan intelligently for its effects.
Given the broad scientific consensus that man-made climate change is going to cause major sea-level rise and flooding, New Jersey should prepare to deal with those effects. The state should use science-based sea level rise projections in all decision making, support local approaches to managing flood risks through land use changes, and require real estate disclosures to incorporate details on flood risk.
When the sea level rises one foot, as it might by the year 2030, the Jersey Shore will face major flooding risk, and the barrier beach and back bay communities will be affected. With three and six feet of sea level rise, the flooding would threaten Teterboro Airport, the Secaucus Rail Station, Giants Stadium, and hundreds of miles of roads and rail lines.
Coordinate state development efforts by using an organized strategic planning process. Better data collection and dissemination, together with open reporting of results would allow communities to make better planning decisions. NJ Future says the state’s Development and Redevelopment Plan, required by a 1985 law, has been ignored and the state plan has not been updated since 2001.
“These recommendations are both feasible and effective,” said New Jersey Future executive director Peter Kasabach. “They strike the right balance among sometimes competing priorities in order to highlight a path forward for New Jersey, out of the economic slow growth we’ve been experiencing for the last nine years and into a period of true, accelerated ‘smart growth.’ We look forward to working with the incoming governor to help implement them.”
The full plan is online at www.njfuture.org.
New Jersey Future, 137 West Hanover Street, Trenton 08618. 609-393-0008. Peter Kasabach, executive director. www.njfuture.org.