By John E. McWeeney Jr.
Years of over-spending and fiscal mismanagement have finally brought New Jersey’s financial future to a critical crossroad. How the state’s leaders respond to this crisis and which solutions they pursue will determine the strength of New Jersey’s economy and our quality of life for generations to come. The time for finger pointing and placing blame is over. It’s time for New Jersey’s leaders to demonstrate their ability to work together in a bipartisan manner and develop broad-based solutions to put our state back on the right fiscal track. It’s also a time for courage, as difficult and painful decisions will have to be made.
To his credit, Gov. Jon Corzine and his advisors have developed an asset monetization plan for New Jersey’s toll roads as one possible solution to the state’s fiscal woes. Bradley Abelow, the governor’s chief of staff, presented the proposal to a group of approximately 75 senior bankers at the First Annual Bankers Legislative Day in Trenton on Feb. 13 (see page 24 for complete coverage of the event).
While there are components of the governor’s plan regarding freezing government spending at current levels and restrictions on future state borrowings that the banking industry and the broader business community embrace, there remain serious questions about the potential impact of the proposed toll hikes and whether certain segments of the population will be bearing an unfair burden. Much of the debate stems from pressure from taxpayers and the business community to cut spending before raising revenues through additional borrowings.
The dialogue around the governor’s plan is healthy and appropriate. It took the state many years to dig itself into this hole, so a healthy debate of alternative solutions should continue with all interested parties. At some point, though, the dialogue must end and tough decisions must be made and implemented.
As always, New Jersey’s banking industry stands ready to assist New Jersey and its citizens to build a brighter future. Our industry employs tens of thousands and is a large payer of corporate income and real estate taxes. More importantly, the banking industry provides much needed capital for consumers, small businesses, large corporations and even government entities to grow. Add to that the millions of dollars in philanthropic support and the many hours of employee volunteerism provided by New Jersey’s banks, and it’s clear to see the positive impact the banking industry is having on New Jersey’s economy and quality of life.
Even with all our industry does, it’s time for more bankers to get engaged in the political process. Whether it’s attending public hearings, meeting with your elected officials, or sending letters and e-mails, bankers need to be heard on the critical issues affecting our state and our industry. We have some of the best and brightest people who have much to offer in the way of experience and expertise.
NJBankers is stepping up its efforts to engage our leaders in meaningful dialogue. Our Bankers’ Legislative Day will now become an annual event. We will also continue to schedule direct meetings with our legislative leaders in both Trenton and Washington, D.C., so we have a forum for our bankers to be heard. Lastly, we’ll continue to keep you informed on key issues through our weekly newsletter and quarterly magazine. The decisions made in the coming months will determine New Jersey’s future for years to come. Join with NJBankers and help us work with our state’s leaders to shape a brighter future for all New Jerseyans.
Changing of the Guard
At the end of March, NJBankers Chairman Roger Bosma will retire as president and CEO of Lakeland Bancorp after a stellar 48-year career in banking. Roger’s service to our industry and to NJBankers is unparalleled and we all owe him a debt of gratitude. I personally want to thank him for his support and counsel during my first year as NJBankers’ president and CEO. Like many before him and many who will follow, Roger served our industry with class, integrity and professionalism. We’re fortunate to have had such great leaders pave the way for the rest of us. Thanks, Roger, and best wishes to you and Holly in retirement, from all your friends at NJBankers!
John E. McWeeney Jr. is president and chief executive officer of NJBankers.