A state’s budget is also a list of its most pressing priorities – here’s what the ACLU of New Jersey is urging government leaders to include for FY24.
The ACLU of New Jersey is committed to ensuring reproductive health care, including abortion, is accessible for all New Jerseyans regardless of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration status, income, or insurance, and continues to center the experiences of patients and providers in the fight for reproductive justice.
In January 2022, New Jersey took the crucial step of reaffirming and protecting the right to abortion by passing the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act, which codified the constitutional right to abortion in the state. And in September 2022, the ACLU-NJ and partners launched efforts to support patients and providers including trainings for providers to help them leverage the new protections and establishing a network of pro bono volunteer lawyers who can offer one-on-one legal consultations and advice to callers who have questions about access to legal reproductive health care in New Jersey.
For FY24, the ACLU-NJ is calling for the inclusion of abortion care within the reproductive services covered through the state budget for people ineligible for health insurance coverage due to their immigration status.
Reinvestment of Cannabis Revenue in Communities Harmed by the Drug War
New Jersey legalized cannabis with the promise of investing almost 60 percent of all cannabis sales tax revenue and 100 percent of the Social Equity Excise Fee in communities most harmed by the criminalization of marijuana. Last year, New Jersey saw the first of those funds reach the State's coffers after the industry launched. These new funds require state-elected leaders to engage New Jerseyans, so that residents can decide how the revenue should be allocated to best prioritize community needs.
For FY24, the ACLU-NJ and partners are asking for more transparency and accountability in the budget process, including more opportunities for community input and a public tracker that shows how funds are allocated. In addition, we want to ensure that this revenue is not used to fund the criminal legal system. Instead, it should be used to fund community resources, like housing, education, and harm reduction programs.
Right to Counsel
Access to housing is a fundamental right. As New Jerseyans continue to grapple with rising rent costs and decreasing availability of affordable housing, it is vital that New Jersey implement policies that will allow tenants to stay in their homes.
Economic barriers often result in tenants being unable to afford a lawyer for housing proceedings, and with the COVID-19 protections no longer in place, tenants are left with little recourse in landlord tenant court, where the odds are stacked against them.
Providing tenants facing eviction with legal representation is an important policy intervention that will ensure families can stay in their homes and prevent many of the long-term harms associated with eviction, such as disrupting education, job-loss, damage to physical and mental health, and difficulty finding new housing. These harms are disproportionately experienced by Black and Latinx people, especially women and children, making eviction a matter of racial justice and gender equality.
For FY24, the ACLU-NJ is calling for $15 million to fund the Expanded Access to Counsel and Homelessness Diversion Anti-Eviction Pilot Program within the DCA’s Office of Eviction Prevention.
Public Defender Fees
When exposed to the criminal legal system, everyone has the right to an attorney. However, in New Jersey, people are forced to pay a fee in order to access that right, even when they can demonstrate an inability to do so. Every New Jerseyan – regardless of income level – should be able to access a public defender when accused of a crime without taking on debt, and that can be achieved through the state budget process.
For FY24, the ACLU-NJ is calling for $4 million to fund the statewide cost of providing public defenders to indigent defendants.
Making the corporate business tax surcharge permanent
The corporate business tax is New Jersey’s third-largest source of tax revenue, which supports vital investments – like public transportation, infrastructure, and public schools – that make the state an attractive place to raise a family or start a business. If the corporate business tax surcharge is allowed to expire at the end of 2023, New Jersey is poised to give the biggest and most profitable corporations, including multi-national companies headquartered outside of the state, a tax cut worth upwards of $600 million per year at the expense of essential programs that provide access to opportunity for all New Jerseyans.
For FY24, the ACLU-NJ and the For the Many Coalition are calling for the corporate business tax surcharge to be made permanent.
Take Action for a Budget that Reflects Our Values
Contact your lawmakers and tell them to build a budget that embodies liberty and justice for all. Let them know how important it is for New Jersey to prioritize equity.