By Vin Gopal
We’ve been busy in Trenton moving legislation forward to assist small businesses, seniors and schools.
One of our bills moving through the Legislature is would strengthen local breweries and distilleries by removing limitations on the number of special events they can hold each year and lifting the restriction that bars them from working with food vendors.This is a burgeoning industry that brings in revenue for the state and brings residents together, and also will revitalizes downtowns – if it’s allowed to flourish.
We also introduced a bill earlier this month to create the “New Jersey Business Recovery Fund” that would provide NJ Economic Development Authority grants for chambers to sponsor events and programs that help businesses recover from pandemic losses. This legislation would provide grants up to $25,000 for chambers of commerce representing multiple towns to plan and hold community events to further the interests of the business communities they represent. They might, for example, use a grant to address labor shortages with events like job fairs. The fund, which uses money from the state budget and from existing small business grant programs, would end after 12 months.
We also joined Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin in introducing legislation to immediately stop funding cuts to regional school districts. Senator Declan O’Scanlon has cosponsored the bill. Our hope is that in addition to reducing the burden of state education cuts, this legislation also would encourage smaller school districts facing cuts due to declining enrollment to move toward regionalization and adding shared services.
Regional school districts would have to meet certain criteria: demonstrating they have mitigated costs through regionalization; increased the district tax levy by maximum amount allowed by law in each of the last five years; spend at least 15 percent less in administrative costs than the state average for regional school districts, and enforced the continuation of courtesy busing.
Many school districts have made a decision in their communities to consolidate. We shouldn’t penalize these districts for working hard to keep costs down and property taxes lower by cutting their state aid.
Another piece of legislation recently introduced in both the state Senate and Assembly, is our proposed “StayNJ” plan, which would cut property taxes by 50 percent up to $10,000 for most seniors. This could be a gamechanger for keeping seniors in their homes – and in the state.
Once again, New Jersey was in the top five states for people moving out in the 2022 United Van Lines Annual National Movers Study. The company reported outbound moves from our state outnumbered inbound moves by two-to-one. Almost 40 percent of the people moving out were seniors 65 or older. Lower the age to include people 55 and the group accounts for two-thirds of the moves out of New Jersey.
Some argue the tax break for seniors would be too expensive but we believe it’s too costly – and wrong – to continue to have high property taxes that force people to give up their lifelong homes and move somewhere else. We are continuing to negotiate with the administration in Trenton and are confident we will reach an agreement before the state budget is due on June 30.
It just makes so much sense. We certainly cannot afford to have so many people continue to leave the state and tax cuts are the best use of the state’s $8 billion in surplus funds.
This legislation could define property tax relief for the next decade.
Senator Vin Gopal serves as Senate Majority Conference Leader and Chair of the Senate Education Committee. Elected in 2018, a lifelong resident of Monmouth County, Senator Gopal represents residents of Asbury Park, Allenhurst, Colts Neck, Deal, Eatontown, Freehold, Freehold Township, Interlaken, Loch Arbor, Long Branch, Neptune City, Neptune Township, Ocean Township, Red Bank, Tinton Falls, Shrewsbury, Shrewsbury Township, and West Long Branch in the State Senate.