NEWARK – The ACLU of New Jersey today urged the Governor and Legislature to prioritize equity in the state’s budget for the 2024 fiscal year. The organization is calling for increased funding in the following priority areas: reproductive freedom and abortion access for all, the reinvestment of cannabis revenue in communities harmed by the Drug War, the right to counsel in housing court, elimination of public defender fees, and making the corporate business tax surcharge permanent.

“A state’s budget is a reflection of its values and most pressing priorities – as one of the most diverse states in the country, New Jersey must invest in equity for all who call it home,” says ACLU-NJ Policy Director Sarah Fajardo. “We urge New Jersey lawmakers to move New Jersey forward in fairness by allocating funds to matters of justice.”

For Fiscal Year 2024, 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.

“The ACLU-NJ 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 freedom,” says ACLU-NJ Campaign Strategist Alejandra Sorto. “We made several advances last year, including the passage of the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act, but now we must do more to remove barriers to abortion care and ensure that all New Jerseyans can meaningfully access their fundamental right to reproductive freedom.”

For Fiscal Year 2024, 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.

Last year, New Jersey saw the first funds from cannabis sales earmarked for community reinvestment reach the State's coffers after the industry launched. These new funds require state-elected leaders to engage New Jerseyans to uphold what has been promised: 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.

“New Jersey legalized cannabis with the promise of investing almost 60 percent of all cannabis sales tax revenue in communities most harmed by the criminalization of marijuana,” says ACLU-NJ Campaign Strategist Ami Kachalia. “We must 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.”

For Fiscal Year 2024, 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

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.

“Access to housing is a fundamental right,” says ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel Joe Johnson. “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.”

For Fiscal Year 2024, the ACLU-NJ is calling for $4 million to fund the statewide cost of providing public defenders to indigent defendants.

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 – particularly those who can least afford it – 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.

“All New Jerseyans should be able to access their right to an attorney when they are exposed to the criminal legal system,” says ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel Joe Johnson. “It is an injustice that defendants are taking pleas simply because they do not have the financial means to access an attorney. The state can and must do more to support those in our state facing the greatest financial hardships.”

For Fiscal Year 2024, the ACLU-NJ and the For the Many Coalition are calling for the corporate business tax surcharge to be made 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.

“Part of ensuring New Jersey remains a fair and welcoming place to call home is making investments that benefit the public, from transportation to schooling – the corporate business tax is an important part of making these investments possible, and it must not let be to expire at the end of 2023,” says ACLU-NJ Campaign Strategist Ami Kachalia. “If it does, the state would be giving the largest 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.”