(TRENTON) – Lou Greenwald returned as Assembly Majority Leader during Tuesday’s Assembly reorganization ceremony, vowing to push for meaningful property tax reform, voting rights, gender pay equity and common sense gun safety.
Greenwald, of Voorhees, first became Majority Leader in 2012 after serving as Assembly Budget Committee chairman from 2002 to 2011. He joins Craig Coughlin, who became the new Assembly speaker, in leading an expanded 54-26 Assembly Democratic majority, the party’s largest majority in the Assembly since 1978.
A longtime advocate for property reform, Greenwald cited President Trump’s recent tax changes that will hurt New Jerseyans as more evidence change is needed.
“We know this system is a decades-old problem that stifles our ability to compete with neighboring states,” Greenwald said. “We know this system forms the root of so many of our state’s other economic and public policy challenges. For those of us who have served for years, we have made public policy decisions that have intended to mitigate the impact of property taxes only to ultimately pay more for less with no hope of improvement.”
He added, “The time for meaningful property tax reform in New Jersey is long overdue. As we enter this legislative session – with new leadership and a new Governor – we must have the tough conversations about how we can move New Jersey forward. In this challenging moment, New Jerseyans must lead the way – not Democrats or Republicans, but a bipartisan effort – on this issue and so many others. “
Greenwald also cited the need to:
· Protect voting rights:
“Voting rights are the cornerstone of our democracy – one which many Americans have quite literally sacrificed their lives to protect,” he said. “This is a time more than ever that citizens need to feel connected to their government, that they can effect change. New Jersey must continue to lead the way in protecting voting rights and expanding the opportunity of its people to vote, through common-sense ideas that modernize our outdated laws — like early voting, automatic voter registration, and same-day registration. The beauty of our democracy is that all votes are equal, one person, one vote.”
· Ensure gender pay equity:
“Can we agree, Democrats and Republicans, to work on a plan for pay equity in our state?” Greenwald asked. “On behalf of our children, we will not turn back, and we will do what is right. New Jersey will continue to lead the way on this issue, until we make the gender wage gap the relic of history that it should be.”
· Enact common sense gun safety laws:
“Gun violence is not about statistics or abstract arguments,” Greenwald said. “It is about countless lives that have needlessly been cut short, because far too many public policy-makers have failed to find the courage to act. I refuse to look those families in the eyes and tell them we are powerless – that their loved ones were a tragic, but necessary, loss. No loss to gun violence is ever necessary.”
Greenwald has been leading advocate for gun safety legislation, meeting several times with the families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims.
Majority Leader Greenwald’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:
Thank you. Thank you so, so much.
I first want to thank my family for their support, their patience, and their unconditional love. Without them, none of this would even be possible.
No matter what elected office held or the progress in public policy we make, the most important titles I will ever hold are husband to Cindi, and dad to Lauren, Jenna, and Eric. My children are a constant reminder of the work that we must do. Thank you for keeping me humble and keeping me motivated to work every day to make New Jersey a better place to raise a family
Today, I step to the podium for my 12th term in this great Legislature and my fourth term as your Assembly Majority Leader.
I remember the values we’ve fought for: real tax relief for the middle class, rebuilding an economy mired in recession, common-sense gun safety, meaningful equality for all our residents, and a better future for all who call New Jersey home.
I remember the victories: the lives improved, the jobs created, the communities made safer, and the slow but steady progress toward equal justice for all.
But I do not step to the podium today to dwell in memory. To keep our eyes in the past would be a grievous mistake. Because today, we find ourselves in a difficult moment – perhaps more difficult than any we have faced in decades, if not a century.
Today, across our nation, we face a reactionary cynicism and rising hatred and intolerance.
There are those who seek to pit us against one another on the basis of our skin color, religion, immigration status, socioeconomic background, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
I have always believed in using the power of the spoken word to lift people up, that words are powerful tools. There are those who believe shared social media posts are more important than our shared values, and that the power of those words is lost in a 140-character tweet. Think for a moment of these words from Robert F. Kennedy, “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”
Patriotism is not a contest to see who can yell the loudest or land the best sound bite.
There are those who see the path to the future ahead and want to reverse course – to undo all the progress we have made.
Let us dream big dreams and challenge ourselves to ask why not.
Here in New Jersey, I say to you today: we are not going backwards – not a single step. Our future and the dreams of our children lie ahead of us.
In New Jersey, we are going to keep moving forward – no matter the difficulty of the path before us or the challenges that we face.
When I say there are those who want to take us back, this is not an abstract idea.
Just weeks ago, Washington passed a tax bill. National financial experts say that New Jersey will be the hardest hit. Out of our 12-member Congressional delegation, only one person believed this would work for our state.
We know it will devastate New Jersey’s middle-class and working families. We know it will put affordable health care out of reach for millions across the country. We know it will exacerbate our state’s unfair and unconscionable property tax burden.
The reports are unanimous, the biggest benefit will go to the smallest few while at the same time evidence shows it will stagnate our state’s economic recovery. We know it will strain the ability of thousands of New Jersey families to make ends meet.
These families who will be affected – they don’t care about the partisan blame game. They are making decisions: how will I put food on the table? How will I pay my property taxes? How will I give my children the opportunity they deserve? And when they are sick and suffering, how can I make it better?
In a very real sense, the tax cuts from Washington presents a crisis for New Jersey.
I believe this crisis provides an opportunity. The fact that our highest-in-the-nation property tax system must be overhauled is lost on no one in this room.
We know this system is a decades-old problem that stifles our ability to compete with neighboring states. We know this system forms the root of so many of our state’s other economic and public policy challenges. For those of us who have served for years, we have made public policy decisions that have intended to mitigate the impact of property taxes only to ultimately pay more for less with no hope of improvement.
The time for meaningful property tax reform in New Jersey is long overdue. As we enter this legislative session – with new leadership and a new Governor – we must have the tough conversations about how we can move New Jersey forward.
We need tax reform that encourages investment in our communities. Tax reform that makes New Jersey an affordable place to raise a family. Tax reform that makes New Jersey a desirable place for our seniors. Tax reform that empowers our younger residents and sets them on a path to succeed. Tax reform that helps those who need it the most: the middle-class and working families who are the backbone of our state.
In this challenging moment, New Jerseyans must lead the way – not Democrats or Republicans, but a bipartisan effort – on this issue and so many others.
My daughter, Lauren, just completed the first semester of her sophomore year of college. She dreams to move back to New Jersey after graduation, but I worry if she will be able to live on her own, or like many of the Millennial generation, move back home with her parents.
In recent years, we have seen far too many states enact laws that restrict voting rights. Make no mistake: these voter suppression laws are discriminatory, un-American, and wrong. Far too often, our nation has tolerated creeping attacks on this most hallowed right of American society.
Yet here in New Jersey, we led the way with an unprecedented effort to expand voting rights via the Democracy Act. Unfortunately, this legislation was vetoed.
But this issue is too important to just give up. Voting rights are the cornerstone of our democracy – one which many Americans have quite literally sacrificed their lives to protect. This is a time more than ever that citizens need to feel connected to their government, that they can effect change.
New Jersey must continue to lead the way in protecting voting rights and expanding the opportunity of its people to vote, through common-sense ideas that modernize our outdated laws — like early voting, automatic voter registration, and same-day registration. The beauty of our democracy is that all votes are equal, one person, one vote.
I am blessed to have twins, a boy, Eric, and a girl, Jenna. In five and a half years they will graduate from college. Their future salaries should be based on their abilities and skills, not their gender. When I dream of their future I do not see a statistic or a number.
Over the last decade, we have seen mountains of data showing a disturbing truth. It is a travesty that in the year 2018, women still receive less compensation than men for equal work. Here in New Jersey, white women make 80 cents for every dollar a man makes, African American women make 58 cents to the dollar, Latina women make just 43 cents to every dollar. Yet we have led the way in efforts to close this wage gap.
We passed historic pay equity legislation that was signed into law. Some of our efforts – like bringing transparency to whether public contractors provide equal pay for equal work – have been vetoed.
Can we agree, Democrats and Republicans, to work on a plan for pay equity in our state?
On behalf of our children, we will not turn back, and we will do what is right. New Jersey will continue to lead the way on this issue, until we make the gender wage gap the relic of history that it should be.
Finally, we have seen the terrible crisis of gun violence sweep our nation. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Tucson. Aurora. Sandy Hook Elementary. Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Pulse Nightclub. Sutherland Springs. Las Vegas.
These names are seared into our consciousness. They represent schools and supermarkets; movie theaters, places of entertainment, and houses of worship.
More importantly, they represent families and communities ripped apart. Victims of senseless, unimaginable pain and needless suffering. They represent the failure of leaders to head the warning of these victims and effect public policy.
There are those who say that we cannot find common sense ways to reduce gun violence and save lives in our communities. There are those who say that as long as there is evil in the world there will be mass shootings.
I would say to those people that we must face the inevitable political consequences to do what is right, not what is easy or popular.
This Bible sits in my office. Legislators regularly meet with constituents, and after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I met with the families whose loved ones were lost that day. It was one of the most moving experiences in my 22 years of public service. These families brought pictures of their children. They come from every different background, just like your children and mine. And now they are lost.
One of these fathers told me about previously seeing these tragic stories on television, taking a minute to say prayers for the victims and then moving on, going to pick up his son from soccer practice. And in a blink of an eye their lives were changed.
Gun violence is not about statistics or abstract arguments. It is about countless lives that have needlessly been cut short, because far too many public policy-makers have failed to find the courage to act.
I refuse to look those families in the eyes and tell them we are powerless – that their loved ones were a tragic, but necessary, loss. No loss to gun violence is ever necessary.
We can do more. We must do more.
New Jersey has led the way in response to these awful tragedies: proposing historic gun safety reform legislation. Some of these efforts have become law – such as legislation strengthening mental health background checks.
New Jersey must continue to lead the way: in comprehensive background checks, in safety training, in public health research about gun violence, in keeping firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers, and in so much more. This package of bills provides the balance of the precious Second Amendment and making our state safer.
Just yesterday we understood this, passing legislation to ban bump stocks. Most of us never heard of bump stocks till a tragedy in Las Vegas, but together we reasoned that no one should be able to inflict that amount of carnage in that short an amount of time. We came together to say enough.
These goals are not lofty, they are vital. And I know we can accomplish them. We cannot turn back, we must go forward.
I believe in the members of this delegation and their readiness to tackle the task at hand. And I believe in the people of New Jersey – who, despite a troubling moment in Washington, elected the most progressive, middle-class-focused legislature New Jersey has seen in decades.
We can do these things, together. When it comes to public policy challenges, we must resolve to never take “no” for an answer, and be committed to finding solutions to today’s problems, no matter where we find them. Change begins right here. Not with sound bites or slogans, but with remarkable citizen legislators – and even more remarkable men and women across this great state, the people we serve and those who are not afraid to dream.
These challenges will not be easy to solve. They have existed for generations. But I refuse to believe there is a problem we can’t solve by working together.
Thank you. God bless you, and may God continue to bless the Great State of New Jersey.