Is New Jersey Hopeless?

njI have lived in New Jersey my entire life. (Exits 141, 139, 9, 11, 131, 98, 4, 5 –that’s NJ speak). I do not intend to move from my beloved Garden State. But I am in the minority and there’s good reason that I am. I am still a cheerleader for the state and there are many things I really like about New Jersey, particularly proximity to New York and Philadelphia and the NJ beaches (our diners are really good too). Additionally, both our children work in NY City so it’s nice to be near them. And Strumings readers know that I often like to visit a stadium on 161st & River in the Bronx.

But every day it gets harder to overlook the downsides of Garden State life. I wrote about this topic three years ago, 5 Reasons Why I Love New Jersey (and 5 Why I Don’t). Have things improved since then? No, they have not. In fact they are getting worse. One of the positive reasons—cheaper gas—has gone away with a 26 cent hike in the gasoline tax in the past 2 years. And the negatives—primarily state, local and real estate taxes—have gotten worse. Some tax issues are self-inflicted, but others are a recent payback to high income states (a/k/a “blue”  states—NY, NJ, CT, CA, MA) in the change in Federal taxes which limits SALT deductions (state and local taxes) to $10,000.

To make things worth NJ Transit, never a shining star, has turned into a disaster. “The summer of hell” for commuters into NY has now extended to all 4 seasons. And the absence of a plan to build a desperately needed additional tunnel into New York will cripple public transportation as the current one crumbles from deterioration. It truly is a disaster waiting to happen. We can thank Governor Christie for pulling the plug on that one. Glad he’s history. At the same time needed construction on the Lincoln Tunnel “helix” (the semi-circular ramp leading into the tunnel) makes those who need to drive into Manhattan –and pay a $15 toll for the privilege to do so–truly awful.

NewJerseyStateCountyMap-189x300On a state budget level, we are still paying the price for an underfunded (and over-promised) pension program for state workers. And corruption runs deep at all levels of government.

So why would anyone live in one of our lovely 21 counties? Actually, there remain 3 important reasons:

1. Proximity to NY and Philadelphia—2 major cities within a short (hah) drive/commute. They are great cities with tons of assets (I can never understand people who live in NJ and never go to into these cities—why endure the pain and cost of NJ, without the nearby benefits?)

2. Great beaches—The Jersey Shore has 115 miles of wonderful beaches from Sandy Hook to Cape May. I like the Northern Jersey shore more where Yankees hats prevail, but there are nice beaches down south too.

3. Beautiful suburbs—They are expensive as hell to live in, and real estate taxes are mind boggling, but they are wonderful places for families.

The underlying problem is that living in New Jersey is becoming too difficult/too expensive for middle class residents. A polarized population with a declining middle class does not bode well for the future. And even wealthy residents don’t have an endless tolerance for the tax burden they face and often leave the state (or spend 183 days a year in non-state income tax Florida) to avoid the NJ’s crushing income taxes.

New Jersey and You. Perfect Together, as former Governor Thomas Kean said in the old TV campaign. Sorry, Tom not really. But I am sticking it out, for now. Hope we turn things around soon.

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