From the Halls of Trenton: State Budget, Lottery Revenues and New Jersey’s Pension Plan

by Hoboken Strategy Group

2017 is turning out to be a busy year in the Halls of Trenton, but hey, it’s New Jersey! Would you have expected anything less than that?

Aside from legislative business, 2017 is an election year in New Jersey with all 80 seats in the General Assembly, 40 seats in the Senate and the Governor’s Office all up for grabs.  Governor Chris Christie is nearing the end of his second term, so New Jersey will have a new Governor in January 2018.  Both the Democrats and Republicans currently each have contested primaries on who from each party will square off in the 2017 Gubernatorial General Election.  Get ready for an action-packed year!

Legislators were welcomed back to Trenton in January and kicked-off the year with statecapGovernor Christie’s State of the State on January 10.  The focus of the Governor’s speech highlighted success in several areas including lowering taxes, creating jobs and reclaiming lives.  The Governor hailed the administration’s accomplishments in reducing the State’s tax burden including a reduction in the State’s Sales Tax, an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit, the phasing out of the elimination of the Estate Tax well as an increase in the State Income Tax exclusion on pension and retirement income.  Governor Christie further touted the State’s success economic growth and job creation during his administration.  Throughout the past seven years, the State has seen consecutive private-sector job growth with 278,000 jobs created since the Governor took office.  For the second straight year, a record number of new businesses filed with the Division of Revenues and Enterprise Services with 103,000 new businesses filed in 2016 and 97,800 new businesses filed in 2015.  The State has also seen home sales increase of 15 percent and unemployment falling to 5 percent, down 4.8 percent since January 2010 when the Governor took office.

Governor Christie also called for the advancement of the State’s fight against the opioid addiction epidemic.  Citing the State’s success in the fight including a  financial commitment of over $127 million to increase mental health and substance use treatment rates and expanding access to care as well as the creation of the Recovery Coach Program to aid overdose survivors, the Governor said there is more to be done.  The Governor called the Legislature to action and by February 15, the State enacted the nation’s strongest addiction recovery reform.  The Governor and Legislature enacted a law requiring insurance coverage for treatment of a substance abuse disorder and the elimination of any coverage waiting period.  The law also reduces the prior 30-day limit on initial opioid prescriptions down to a 5-day limit to avoid deadly and habit-forming gateway drugs from getting into the hands of children and the vulnerable.

The Governor returned to the Assembly Chamber at the end of February to deliver his Budget Address to a Joint Session of the Legislature.  The Governor’s proposed $35.5 billion State Budget plan includes no new tax increases or tax cuts, while holding the line on funding in areas such as property tax relief, municipal aid, public schools, and funding for higher education.

Citing the State’s reauthorization of the Transportation Trust Fund in 2016, the Governor called for a “jumpstart” in the State’s investment in addressing bridge deficiencies and the state of good repair for roads statewide.  The Governor proposed a $400 million supplemental appropriation to allow the Department of Transportation to deliver the largest construction program in state history.  This supplemental appropriation would need to be approved by the Legislature and signed by the Governor in order to become a reality.

Governor Christie also called upon the Legislature to overhaul the state’s school aid formula in the next 100 days.  While Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto have each been conducting hearings across the State on the issue, the Governor added an aggressive timeline to advance a proposal.  The Governor said, “I will make a pledge…to work with the leaders of the legislature to come up with a new funding formula. Everything is on the table. No idea is out of bounds for discussion. I am willing to work with you to solve this problem without any pre-conditions on the ideas brought to the table.”  While willing to compromise, the Governor also promised to “act alone” if forced to.

The Governor’s Budget intends to abide by a recent law that calls for the State’s pension contributions to be made in quarterly installments rather than one larger payment at the end of the fiscal year.  The proposed $2.5 billion pension contribution in FY18 would be a record for the State in one fiscal year.  However, the overall contribution would fall short of the roughly $5 billion contribution recommended by actuaries to restore the pension system.

Speaking of pensions, Governor Christie also proposed redirecting lottery revenues to “eligible pension plans.”  The full details of this plan have yet to be released, but the Governor suggested that the State Lottery could be better utilized to fund the pension system.  Currently, the nearly $1 billion in lottery proceeds are used towards programs that assist disabled veterans, college students and the developmentally disabled.  Any change in the current lottery system would require the enactment of legislation.

The Governor also called upon Horizon Blue Cross/Blue Shield, New Jersey’s largest health insurance provider, to create a charitable fund utilizing its $2.9 billion surplus that could be used to support drug treatment efforts for those without health coverage as well as other services for vulnerable residents who access Charity Care and Medicaid.  The Governor called upon Horizon to embrace the establishment of a permanent fund that would dedicate Horizon’s annual surplus towards tackling public health crises.  Governor Christie said, “As the sole insurer with this unique non-profit status and historically charitable mission, Horizon shares in the financial obligation of caring for our most vulnerable citizens…”  Horizon officials were quick to respond to the Governor’s proposal and the characterization of an “abundant surplus,” instead referring to the funds as a reserve fund of $2.4 billion.  In a statement, Horizon noted that the reserves only have “enough to cover 75 days of claims or just a single day of hospital care for every person Horizon ensures.”  Horizon also suggested that the Legislature enact a law that limits surprise out-of-network billing practices, which costs the company around $1 billion annually.

The Legislature will be out on Budget Recess in mid-March and begin deliberation on the State Budget including public hearings as well as opportunities for each State department and agency to present their budget proposals for the next fiscal year.  The Senate and Assembly Budget Committees will then develop a budget proposal which must be approved by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor by the end of the Fiscal Year (June 30).  Stay tuned because budget season promises to heat things up under the Golden Dome and you can count on us to be there and fill you in on all of the action!

Hoboken Strategy Group is a boutique New Jersey government relations and business development firm made up of public affairs professionals with years of experience handling legislative and regulatory challenges on the local, state and federal levels.  Kay Elizabeth LiCausi, President of Hoboken Strategy Group, serves on the Government Affairs Committee for the Hudson County Chamber of Commerce.  Michael J. Comba serves as Vice President of Hoboken Strategy Group.  They can be reached online at www.hobokenstrategy.com and on Facebook at Hoboken Strategy Group.

 

 

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HarrisonRand Know-How: Thinking for Mobile – 5 Trends for 2017

By Jason Rand, HarrisonRand

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What would you like to read about in Jason’s next post? Email your suggestions to jason@harrisonrand.com

For many of us, we start our days reaching for the mobile phone to turn off the alarm feature, read a notification about Trump’s latest tweet or check the weather or email. Mobile has now become a “hub,” enabling overall connectivity for consumers and opening doors to the internet-of-things, mobile payments, virtual reality and beyond.

By this year’s end, 75 percent of online content consumption will be mobile according to AdAge.  Still, many businesses, both large and small, are struggling with how to engage audiences to provide a richer, more unique mobile experience.

Here are 5 tips to keep in mind when moving into mobile and how thinking for mobile, can help focus your efforts.

#1 Mobile Mentality

When designing your banner ads, websites, Instagram posts and emails, think bold, clean and easy to read with a clear call to action. Hectic schedules and an on-the-go lifestyle combined with small touch screens present unique challenges when designing for the mobile experience. Keep clutter to a minimum.

#2 Mobile-Only Social

Since 80% of time spent on social media is mobile, marketers may want to make this their focus for 2017. Instagram and Snapchat are quickly growing and becoming important channels to consider to engage your mobile audience. Instagram, in particular, is providing many regional businesses with powerful features such as live streaming, in-app purchase and targeted advertising to enhance the mobile first experience.

TIP: Video advertising through Instagram has proven to be a valuable and cost-effective strategy to engage Hudson County target audiences.

#3 Video Wins

In the ongoing competition for attention, users and consumer behavior are transforming the ways in which brands are engaging audiences. As a result, social video is one of the key trends for mobility that is important to consider. YouTube reports that mobile video consumption rises 100% every year. Including video on a landing page can increase conversion rates by 80%.

TIP: Be sure to include sharing features when using video content and make sure to ask users to help spread your message.

#4 Geofencing on the Rise

All mobile devices feature location information through various network systems, by setting up geofencing businesses can engage mobile audiences within a defined geographic area. For regional events and trade shows geofencing has become an incresingly important strategy to target unique audiences.

TIP: Geofencing was used extensively and effectively in the Jersey City “Make It Yours” campaign to engage audiences at various mobile hubs throughout Brooklyn, NYC and Jersey City.

#5 Listen and Learn

Don’t forget to A/B test with your mobile messaging. When deploying in-app content through Facebook and Instagram, its recommended to run multiple campaigns with different creative and messaging to ensure that your efforts are as effective as possible and yielding the greatest ROI. Tracking performance and analytics can provide important clues to your audience’s behavior and where to take your marketing efforts moving forward to meet their needs. Listen to your audience and you’ll be richly rewarded.

The world of mobile is a complex, ever-changing landscape which is constantly evolving by aggregating important consumer data and insights. The result is a powerful marketing machine which is seamlessly adapting to user behavior by adding features and benefits to engage audiences in a deeper mobile brand experience. So whether you’re a Fortune 500 company or a small business, embracing mobility can help supercharge your marketing efforts through the coming years.

Jason Rand is Creative Director of HarrisonRand, a third generation family owned business in Hudson County and Member of the Hudson County Chamber of Commerce. Please let Jason know how it goes and what you’d like to see in his next post: email him at Jason@HarrisonRand.com

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From the Halls of Trenton: Gas Tax, Referendums, Election Results & More

By Hoboken Strategy Group

So much has happened since we last checked in.  Let’s get right into it.

statecapIf you have filled up your gas tank since November 1, you may have noticed that the State has increased the gas tax through the re-authorization of the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF).  The TTF had run out of funding over the summer and Governor Chris Christie halted all transportation-related construction projects which had been funded with TTF funding.  As a result, projects such as the Park Avenue Bridge rehabilitation were halted until a TTF resolution was instituted.

Late in the day on Friday afternoon, September 30, Governor Chris Christie, alongside Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, announced a bipartisan agreement for the future of the TTF along with the State’s first broad-based tax cut since 1994.  The Legislature approved legislation associated with this agreement the following week and Governor Christie signed it into law on October 14.

The bipartisan compromise for the replenishment of the TTF would provide dedicated funding of $2 billion per year through an increase in the gas tax by 23 cents per gallon while also authorizing up to $12 billion in borrowing for an 8-year period.  Fiscal estimates have shown that the gas tax increase will cost the average New Jerseyan between $184 and $276 per year.  However, the State Department of Transportation and NJ Transit have estimated that the average New Jersey driver spends approximately $600 per year on vehicle repairs caused by the State’s current road conditions.

On the tax cut side, the compromise includes:

  • A reduction in the sales tax from 7% to 6.875% on January 1, 2017, followed by a further reduction to 6.625% on January 1, 2018
  • An increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor from 30% to 35%
  • A $3,000 personal income tax exemption for all New Jersey veterans honorably discharged from active duty in the military or National Guard
  • An increase in the tax exclusion on retirement income to $100,000 for joint filers, $75,000 for individuals, and $50,000 for filers married but filing separately.
  • A phase out of the Estate Tax over the next two years, replacing the current $675,000 threshold with a $2 million exclusion after January 1, 2017 and the elimination of the tax altogether as of January 1, 2018.

After a long wait, transportation and infrastructure projects will receive the State funding necessary to advance.   With increases in aid to counties and local governments, long-awaited improvements to the area’s roads, bridges and mass transit systems can be initiated.

Election Day 2016 is now behind us.  While New Jersey voters supported former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with 55% of the vote, Donald Trump earned 290 electoral votes to become President (compared to 228 electoral votes for Secretary Clinton).  President-elect Trump has initiated the Presidential transition process.  In the coming weeks, we can expect to learn the President-elect’s choices for Cabinet-level positions and White House senior staff.

President-elect Trump will be working with Republican majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives.  Here in Hudson County, voters easily re-elected our Congressional representatives, Congressman Albio Sires (D-8), Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-9) and Congressman Donald Payne, Jr. (D-10).  And just in case you are in election overload, get ready because in New Jersey, 2017 will feature a gubernatorial election along with all 120 seats in the State Legislature and several other local offices up for election.

This year, voters in the State split in deciding two statewide ballot questions.  Voters overwhelmingly rejected an amendment to the State Constitution to allow for casino gambling in two additional counties in the State, 78% to 22%.  As you know, casino gambling is only allowed in Atlantic City.  This amendment would have allowed the Legislature to permit casino gambling in two other counties in the State.  Under the amendment, only one casino per county would be allowed and would be located at least 72 miles from Atlantic City.  Speaking of Atlantic City, a share of revenue from the operation of the casinos would have been used for the recovery, stabilization or improvement of Atlantic City, with the remaining portion of the State’s revenue dedicated to programs and property tax relief for senior citizens and disabled residents.

The demise of this ballot question seemed inevitable for at least the past month when groups supporting the amendment pulled funding for an advertising campaign following a Stockton University poll showing 71% of voters opposed, 24% in favor and 5% undecided.  In anticipation of defeat, proponents pledged before Election Day to explore getting the question on the ballot in a future election.

The State’s other ballot question, which was approved 51% to 49% dedicates all of the State’s gasoline and motor fuels tax revenue to transportation funding.  The purpose of this amendment would be to constitutionally guarantee that the revenue collected could not be diverted to purposes other than the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF).  With the 23 cent per gallon increase in the gas tax, this ballot question faced an uphill battle with opponents of the amendment under a number of misconceptions including that the increase would be eliminated with the rejection of the ballot question and a theory that the amendment would authorize an additional $12 billion in borrowing.  The fact is that the gas tax increase could only be repealed by the Legislature and, as we noted earlier, the authorization of up to $12 billion in borrowing was a part of the TTF legislation.  So as a result of the approval of this ballot question, motorists can rest assured that the additional money they are paying per gallon is going to transportation-related purposes and nothing else.

A lot has happened in the past few months around and beyond Trenton.  As our nation prepares for a new presidential administration and our State gears up for a gubernatorial election, 2017 looks to be an exciting year, we will keep you up to date on all of the action From the Halls of Trenton!

Hoboken Strategy Group is a boutique New Jersey government relations and business development firm made up of public affairs professionals with years of experience handling legislative and regulatory challenges on the local, state and federal levels.  Kay Elizabeth LiCausi, President of Hoboken Strategy Group, serves on the Government Affairs Committee for the Hudson County Chamber of Commerce.  Michael J. Comba serves as Vice President of Hoboken Strategy Group.  They can be reached online at www.hobokenstrategy.com and on Facebook at Hoboken Strategy Group.

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HarrisonRand Know-How: 3 Easy Steps to Get Your Content Marketing Moving

By Jason Rand, Harrison Rand

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What would you like to read about in Jason’s next post? Email your suggestions to Jason@HarrisonRand.com

Our last post explored ways to boost social engagement. Now, it’s time to put those tips to work and begin some basic planning of an integrated content marketing strategy. Research shows that “content marketing costs 62 percent less than traditional marketing and generates about three times as many leads”. Content marketing is defined as a program that centers on creating, publishing, and distributing content to target audiences — usually online —  with the goal of attracting new customers.  According to a recent Demand Gen Report survey 47 percent of B2B buyers consume three to five content pieces before engaging with a business. Yet, more than 70 percent of marketers lack a consistent content strategy. It’s clear that having a defined content strategy is critical to long term business health in a competitive landscape.

As the pace of marketing and business accelerates, having an effective, integrated, sustainable content marketing strategy has never been more important. The challenge is with so much information available online, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

 #1 Getting started

Explore the value of the services or mission of the business or organization and then look at the target audience against an annual calendar. Now, look at the competition and see what they’re doing or not doing. Identify areas which may be weaknesses for them and think about how to do it better. This important step can help guide the process of building out a grid to organize your efforts and effectively integrate and track opportunities along with content initiatives throughout the year. Compile lists of topics which are unique, interesting and relevant and break them into two categories. Compile another list of all the target markets to be engaged through these efforts.

 TIP: Consistency in a topic through a cycle will streamline the process and lead to greater audience engagement and less confusion.

  • List one: Timely topics such as news, market cycles and events. For example, the health care industry’s need to address changes in insurance coverage and developments in the field or a not-for-profit’s participation in Giving Tuesday.
  • List two: Ideas for content which are focused on broader topics which are core to the brand. For example, real estate developers using video to address a project’s design philosophy or approach to urban planning.

Once the lists are complete, begin distributing the content throughout the grid to determine when the best time is during the year to develop and deploy everything.

TIP: Break the calendar into quarters to help simply the process and make it less stressful.

#2 Choosing channels

Selecting where content should live is largely determined by a combination of factors such as audience behavior and engagement levels in context to the types of services provided. Below is an overview of some of the most effective:

  • Blogs: Many businesses don’t consider blogs, but they have been proven significant influencers of SEO, as well as, great ways to engage audiences around specific keyword sensitive topics in a timely fashion. For example: Recent changes in tax structures in the state are a great subject for an accounting or law firm to publish
  • Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linkedin all have different often overlapping audiences along with their own unique strengths and weaknesses to consider.
  • Email: B2C email marketing is a cornerstone of online shopping. Every day brands deploy millions of emails to promote sales and new products. B2B strategies pivot on this idea by providing valuable insight and advice as “the product”. Round out the integrated content marketing plan by deploying an email strategy to coincide and support blog content. The correct coordination can lead to big results in lead generation.

TIP: Research and develop the content which resonates best with audiences. Good content can be used effectively and efficiently across all platforms. For example: One video of a real estate developer’s interview discussing a new project can be used across all channels with the modification of copy.

#3 Setting up measurement systems

Managing the scheduling and tracking content performance is the critical final stage of building a plan. Research optimal times to deploy emails and post on Facebook or Instagram. All platforms today provide metrics such as open rate, CTR (click through rate), and engagement. The measurement of these initiatives provides insight and understanding into how content is being consumed to determine an ROI. Also, important in this process, is the opportunity it provides to identify positive patterns to be replicated and negative ones to be eliminated. For example: A video post that performed extremely well along with a high engagement rate will see significant sharing as well. If an audience likes it, make more.

Conclusion:

I hope that this overview has been helpful and provided a foundational understanding of the building blocks for an effective content marketing program. Being a successful content marketer isn’t complex, but it does take a large degree of effort and a commitment to consistency and learning.

Most importantly, practice is key. Tracking content performance through trial and error will yield a road map to success.

Please let me know how it goes and what you’d like to see in our next post: email me at Jason@HarrisonRand.com

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HarrisonRand Know-How: 5 Proven Winners to Supercharge Your Facebook Engagement

By Jason Rand, HarrisonRand

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Our newest contributing blogger, Jason Rand, HarrisonRand

Welcome to my first blog post. Hudson County Chamber President & CEO, Maria Nieves, and I developed this new blog in the hope that it will become a valuable resource to Chamber Members seeking insight into proven and innovative ways to market businesses today. For regional and national businesses, Social Media provides an unparalleled opportunity to target audiences, drive traffic to events, showcase newsworthy content, promote sales, generate leads and educate your community about the services and value you provide.

Capitalizing on all this opportunity, however, in the ever changing Social world has proven challenging for many businesses due to the various changes in audience behavior, ongoing platform modifications and an ever expanding community of users who are being exposed to literally millions of updates per day by various brands and messages. With so much competition online for attention, we thought it would be helpful to explore some easy to implement strategies to make sure that you are engaging your audiences as effectively as possible.

#1 Ask Questions

Facebook is all about starting conversations. Imagine yourself in a room with a group of people you want to get to know better. For example, let’s look at Hudson County as a topic and see how to start the conversation. Here are some examples.

  • Specific: What’s your favorite part about living in Hudson County?
  • Timely: Today is the founding of Jersey City, how are you celebrating?
  • True or False: Bayonne is named after a region in France
  • Events: Who is attending Legends Ball 9?
  • Preference: What is your favorite place to eat in Hudson County?
  • Photo: Ask for a caption!

TIP: Don’t be disappointed if you only get a couple of answers in the beginning. Keep asking the right questions and you’ll be on your way to boosting your engagement. Don’t forget to add photos if appropriate, they can really make a difference.

#2 Try boost and/or pin features

Gone are the days of “organic reach” when you posted an update or an event and your members saw your content. Facebook’s every changing content distribution algorithm has proven one of the most challenging hurtles for businesses. However, Facebook does offer a number of very effective tools such as pinning and boosting to help you promote your content to your existing page members as well as target new audiences.

  • Pinning is free and will move your post to the top of your Page’s Timeline and an icon will appear on the post. Your pinned post will stay at the top of your Page’s Timeline for 7 days. After that, it’ll return to the date it was published on your Page’s Timeline.
  • Boosting will require some budget allocation depending on the size of your desired target market. These strategies have proven to be extremely effective to target regional audiences and the reach can be enormous based on your budget.  To learn more about the process: https://www.facebook.com/business/learn/

TIP: Be sure to track your efforts to see how many likes, shares and clicks you get. If you’re going to begin boosting it’s always a good idea to start off conservatively and then add to your budget based on performance. Maybe try boosting two posts with different content to the same audience and see which performs better.

#3 Timing is Everything

Timing matters when it comes to posting. Collectively, there are 31.25 million messages shared every minute—half a million messages each second!  Knowing when to engage with your audience is critical. Taking into account work schedules and commuting times, studies have shown that posting at either 12 PM or after 7 PM is best, with Thursday considered to be the best day of the week for traffic.

TIP: As mobility continues to rise and Facebook refines its app, posting and engagement times will likely reflect a more diverse pattern of user behavior.

#4 Use (good) photography

It’s no secret that photos engage audiences, but did you know that posts with images see 2.3x more engagement than those without? Even more compelling is the gallery feature which allows users to create a portfolio of images. Uploading several photos in one post creates a gallery of thumbnails which entice users to click to enlarge.

TIP: Try testing a few different variations with albums for different events and/or products. Tracking your efforts here too can also prove helpful as you continue to engage your audiences

#5 Video

From the end of 2014, to the end of 2015, video on Facebook grew by a staggering 7 billion views per day. And this is only the beginning. Overall, the stats regarding engagement are compelling and although video may take some time, effort and some allocation of funds, it is proven to be worth it. For marketers, not only does video provide a deeper engagement opportunity with your brand and business, but it also generates up to 135% more organic reach that just photography!

TIP: Why not try “Facebook Live” for your next speaking engagement or event? People spend 3x more time watching Live video than non on Facebook.

I hope that you’ve found these useful and that soon you’ll be on your way to growing your Facebook audience. As you do, you’ll learn meaningful insights into your community and the value they place in your brand and business. Remember, don’t be afraid to ask them to share your message to help you grow!

Anything in particular you’d like us to write about? We want to hear from you! Email your suggestions to Jason@harrisonrand.com

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From the Halls of Trenton: It’s Back to Work for the NJ Legislature

statecapFrom the Halls of Trenton is a  regular feature of The Bottom Line, the eNewsletter of the Hudson County Chamber of Commerce. Thank you to Hoboken Strategy Group for partnering with us to keep our Members up to date on the action while focusing on legislation of interest to the business community.  

By  Hoboken Strategy Group

Fall means “Back to School” for school students, but it’s also “Back to Trenton” for our Legislature.  The Halls of Trenton are buzzing with rested lawmakers and lobbyists ready to get back to work.  As you shake the Jersey Shore sand off of your feet, let’s bring you up to speed on where we are in Trenton.

As expected, the New Jersey State Budget was approved in advance of the Constitutional deadline of July 1.  The Democratic-controlled Senate and Assembly approved by the State’s spending measure mostly by party lines. Governor Christie had the final say on the spending plan, slashing $300 million in spending through his line-item veto authority granted under the State Constitution.  The $34.5 billion State Budget holds the line on taxes while also increasing the State’s contributions to government worker pensions.

In our last issue, we brought you up to speed on the current state of the reauthorization of the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF).  The good news is that you haven’t missed anything since our last issue.  The bad news is that the Legislature has yet to come to an agreement with the Governor’s Office on the details of the TTF reauthorization.

June 27 was a big day in Trenton with final votes expected on the State Budget and the TTF reauthorization.  While the Budget passed quickly, the TTF dragged on throughout the day.  By the middle of the afternoon, staff and lobbyists were grumbling that there were not enough votes in the Assembly to provide a veto-proof majority for the plan.  While Governor Christie stated that he supported the proposed 23 cent increase in the gas tax, his support hinged on a level of tax fairness through reductions in other taxes, which amounted to about an estimated $870 million in tax cuts. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto and Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick entered the Governor’s Office and hashed out an alternative agreement.  Their compromise called for the renewal of the TTF for an 8-year period rather than a 10-year period as originally proposed.   The originally agreed upon income tax cut for retirement income was joined by a new plan to reduce the current 7% sales tax.  Under the compromise, the sales tax would drop to 6.5 % on January 1, 2017 and fall again to 6% on January 1, 2018.

As the clock approached midnight, the Assembly approved their compromise TTF agreement.  Meanwhile, the Senate had already adjourned for the day.  The June 30 legislative session came and went without consideration of the TTF compromise.  A fiscal analysis of the proposal found that the one-cent sales tax cut combined with the new exemptions on retirement income would cost the State about $1.7 billion in revenue by Fiscal Year 2019.  Given the State’s current economic condition, legislators have been hesitant to cause that large of a hole in the State Budget.

Without an agreement to replenish the TTF, the Governor’s Office declared a state of emergency and released a list of project that will be shut down in order to conserve money left in the TTF.  The projects include nearly $775.6 million in NJ Department of Transportation projects as well as $2.7 billion worth of contracts managed by NJ Transit.  In Hudson County, 21 road projects have been shut down, including the Park Avenue Bridge connecting Hoboken and Weehawken as well as the JJ Braddock Park Roadway Improvement project in North Bergen.

While negotiations are ongoing, to date no agreement has been reached between the Governor and Legislature and the work shutdown remains in effect.  The shutdown has resulted in the loss of 4,200 jobs, $41 million in work stoppage costs, and $9 million in weekly lost sales and wages.  With the Legislature now back in session, there is hope that an agreement will be reached.

As a result of the TTF-stalemate, the Legislature did not advance a measure that would have placed a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to mandate contributions to New Jersey’s public pension system.  The State’s pension system covering around 770,000 active and retired public employees is currently $43.8 billion in debt.  This constitutional amendment would have required the State to make quarterly increasing contributions into the pension fund through 2021.

On August 30, Governor Christie vetoed legislation which would have increased the hourly minimum wage to $10.10 immediately as well as increase the minimum wage over a four-year period to $15 per hour.  In vetoing the legislation, the Governor said that the measure was a radical increase which would “trigger an escalation of wages that will make doing business in New Jersey unaffordable.”

In response to the Governor’s veto of the minimum wage increase, Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto pledged to introduce an amendment to the State Constitution to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021.  The Senate Labor Committee was expected to consider the bill, SCR-1010, on the Legislature’s first day back in session on September 7, however, the bill was removed from the Committee’s agenda prior to the hearing.

Fall is here, but things are still hot under the golden dome of Trenton.  More to come, From the Halls of Trenton!

Hoboken Strategy Group is a boutique New Jersey government relations and business development firm made up of public affairs professionals with years of experience handling legislative and regulatory issues on the local, state and federal levels.  Kay Elizabeth LiCausi, President of Hoboken Strategy Group, serves on the Government Affairs Committee for the Hudson County Chamber of Commerce.  Michael J. Comba serves as Vice President of Hoboken Strategy Group.  They can be reached online at www.hobokenstrategy.com and on Facebook at Hoboken Strategy Group.

 

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6 Things Business Owners Can Learn from the Games

By Maria Nieves, President & CEO, IOM

For two weeks every four years we are treated to some of the greatest reality television on the planet (and I’m not talking about the presidential campaign).  The Olympic Games provide high drama, and a few interesting side bar stories, like few other shows can.  It’s among my favorite sporting events to watch.  And the Rio Games have lived up to my expectations.  The cast this year comprises more than 11,000 athletes hailing from 208 countries.

RioOlympicsPhotoWhile the athletes can perform super human feats and display the most amazingly fit physiques, their personal stories are always relatable. Whether they are stars like gymnast Simon Biles, swimmer Michael Phelps and sprinter Usain Bolt, or an athlete who competes in a lesser known sporting event, their victories and defeats are all equally mesmerizing.

The lessons we learn from these athletes are part of what make the Olympics such must-watch-TV for me.  As the Games come to a close this weekend, and we bid adieu to Rio’s beautiful vistas and diverse set of characters, I began to ponder on the lessons that business owners can take away from the latest edition of this sports tradition.

#1 – Pace Yourself – It’s Going to be a Long Haul

Being a business owner, like being an Olympian, is a long-haul proposition.  Athletes prepare many years for what is often a once-in-a-lifetime chance.  To get to the world’s biggest sporting stage, they test their chops in world competitions, and typically must achieve top three in the  trials of their respective countries in order to punch their ticket to the Games.  Once at the Olympics, there are rounds of games, matches, and qualifying races.  Even the top gymnasts in the world, such as the USA’s Final Five, need to “audition” at the Games by competing first in a qualifying round.  Athletes learn to pace themselves accordingly. They can’t leave it all in the pool or on the track in the first round.  They need to take just enough risk and expend just enough energy to qualify and then let loose in the finals.

Like runners and swimmers, business owners also need to pace themselves so they’ll have the focus and energy needed when it really counts. Entrepreneurs who have both passion and enthusiasm for their vision, often work long days, wear many hats, and sweat numerous details to bring their dream to fruition. And they often have to take care of many un-glamorous tasks before they reach their goal of building a sustainable business. It can be challenging to keep your eyes on the prize when going through all the hurdles (all these sports pun are fully intended!) of drafting a plan, registering a business, finding suppliers, identifying distribution channels, engaging investors and securing the capital to launch and grow, etc., etc., etc. So pace yourself. You’re in it for the long-haul.

#2 – Raw Talent is not Enough – You’ve Got to Hone Your Skills

World class athletes are certainly born with many unique physical assets. They may have the height needed to excel at a sport like volleyball or, on the opposite end, be shorter in stature, which would make them more suited for gymnastics. Perhaps they’ll have the long arm span needed by boxers and swimmers or an aptitude for great hand and eye coordination. Think of Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man and winner of back-to-back Olympic 100 meter races. He’s tall with long legs that help him to have a higher leg turnover rate than many of his competitors. Regardless of these natural gifts, however, world class athletes are not born. They are made over many years of workouts, training and competitions, which hone their technical skills, and build muscle and muscle memory. Experience also enables them to develop mental toughness. An ability to learn from failure is probably one of the most important skills any athlete can develop.

Like an athlete competing at the highest levels, you may have natural abilities that give you an edge as an entrepreneur and business owner, but you too will need to hone your skills as a leader and manager. You have to learn to manage the day-to-day while planning strategically, become a great communicator and develop your EQ to complement your IQ, as well as the mental toughness to persevere when things get tough. You need to make a commitment to continuously improve. This is also known as, practice, practice, practice. 

#3 – Find the Right Coach

More than likely you had never heard of South Africa’s Wayde Van Niekerk before these Games. He won the men’s 400 meter race in world record time. What makes his story particularly striking is his coach, 74 year-old Anna Botha, a great-grandmother of four with a head full of wavy white hair.  She doesn’t look like your typical track and field coach. Quite the opposite. But Botha’s philosophy is that you’re never too old to learn something new.  And she’s been the head track and field coach at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein since 1990!  When Van Niekerk enrolled there, he sought out Botha.  She helped him switch his focus from the 200 meter race to the 400 meter race after the Games in London in 2012 in order to help him protect against injuries.   The rest is now history.  Clearly she was the right coach at the right time for Van Niekerk.  A partnership made in sports heaven.

That’s what you want when you’re running your own business, especially if you’re running a small business: the right coaches and mentors at the right time. Be discerning but be open to coaching. Is this coach going to have your best interests in mind? Have they a unique perspective that can help you to make key transitions? Perhaps they’re not even in your industry or someone you might consider a likely coach. Remember that mentors come in all shapes and sizes.  Ultimately you want a coach who can push you to be your best self in business but also provide moral support.

#4 – Practice Sportsman- and Sportswomanship

It was a heartwarming scene when New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin and the USA’s Abbey D’Agostino helped each other after falling to the track during their qualifying race in the women’s 5000 meter. The real-life drama unfolded when Hamblin tripped and tumbled to the ground, accidentally bringing D’Agostino down behind her. When D’Agostino got back to her feet, she didn’t just run off and leave Hamblin in her dust. She helped Hamblin up, despite the fact that D’Agostino had injured her ankle. They rallied each other to complete the race. 

Many sports are generally speaking, a zero-sum proposition. Lose a match and your team is bounced. There can only be one all-around gymnastics champion or decathlon winner. For me to win, you must lose and vice versa. It’s the rare, rare race that produces a tie for the top spot. That said, world class athletes know that their competitors are critical to helping them push further. You can compete against yourself, but that will only get you so far. There’s benefit to fostering respectful competition on and off the track.  In the end, sportsmanship helps to elevate the sport along with the athlete. And in the case of Hamblin and D’Agostino, they were unexpectedly rewarded for their sportswomanship by being granted two spots in the 5000 meter final.

Business may at times seem like a zero-sum game.  But I don’t believe it is or has to be. I encourage you to practice some business sportsmanship.  You want to be known as a connector and a giver, not a taker.  No one company can capture the entire market, nor does it need to.  The pie is big enough for all.  And you may find at times that there are prospective customers or projects that don’t make sense for you or your business. In those cases, help them and others in your industry by making a referral.  It’ll go a long way and will earn unexpected rewards that rebound to you.

#5 – Go for the World Record, Not the Medal

Katie Ledecky, the American swimmer who blew away the field in the women’s 800 meter freestyle, doesn’t swim for the gold medal. She swims for the world record. She’s got her eyes on the bigger prize.  And when she set the world record in Rio, she won that race by more than 11 seconds over her nearest competitor.

This piece of advice comes from one of our Chamber Members Juliet Foster who volunteers to  run the Chamber’s monthly Breakfast Club meetings. I think it’s great advice. Go for the world record. Ask yourself who now holds the world record in your industry and what can you learn from them. What are they doing that you’re not? How can you become the world record holder in your field.

#6 – Have Fun 

Ask Usain Bolt what has propelled him through all his wins and I would venture to guess that he’d tell you he relishes his time on the big stage. He’s enjoying the moment. Just think about it. Does he ever look nervous to you? I’ve never seen a more relaxed sprinter. Before his race, cameras often catch him dancing and being playful.  And it’s this energy that helps him relax into his races. So grab a Bolt and remember life is short. As a business owner you are fortunate to be doing what you love. Have some fun!

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