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Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver today said news on the state’s unemployment rate sends a strong message that fixing the economy must remain the top priority in Trenton, and urged the governor to enact the comprehensive “Back to Work NJ” jobs and economic growth initiative currently sitting on his desk.

According to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, New Jersey’s unemployment rate is 9.1 percent, down .1 percent from last month. But a deeper look into the data shows that the numbers were driven by a double-whammy of private-sector job losses and an increasing number of unemployed residents dropping out of the workforce entirely. With the holidays passed, seasonal employees were let go.

New Jersey lost 16,300 jobs in December – nationwide, the labor force gained 103,000 jobs.

“I don’t know how much clearer a message the governor needs that creating jobs and helping small businesses cannot wait any longer,” said Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem). “The governor has 30 bills ready for his signature that will create jobs and opportunity for our residents, and give businesses much needed tax breaks. There is absolutely no reason for him not to sign them today.”

“The latest job numbers hasten the need for the governor to sign the package of bills that is languishing on his desk,” said Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic). “Having all but given up hope, residents are dropping out of the workforce entirely. We need to put these bills into action to stimulate real, lasting job growth, not simply seasonal help that will eventually send people back to the unemployment line.”

Over the weekend, the governor said in a FOX News interview that he would propose cutting taxes for business when he unveils his budget next month. The legislative leaders said businesses shouldn’t have to wait another four weeks for tax cuts the governor could enact today.

Sweeney and Oliver noted that the business tax cuts, credits and incentives included in the “Back to Work NJ” package were the direct outcome of multiple meetings with business leaders. The legislative leaders had convened a Business Task Force in September to hear directly from the business community on how to reinvigorate the state’s economy; among their top priorities were implementing the “single sales” factor to remove a disparity in tax law that favored out of state businesses, as well as targeted investment and tax incentives in emerging industries. Both of those initiatives are on the governor’s desk.

“If the governor truly meant what he said in his State of the State Address about working together in a spirit of bipartisanship, then he will sign these bills into law without further delay,” added Oliver. “Families struggling to pay their bills and stay in their homes do not care where any job creation measures originate from. They just want to know that help is on the way. The governor shouldn’t delay this help by waiting to propose his own measures when we have sent him a viable package just waiting to be turned into law.”

“After a state of the state address in which he uttered the word ‘jobs’ just four times, it’s fascinating that the governor is suddenly interested in helping business,” said Sweeney. “When Democrats offer tax cuts, he questions whether the state can afford them. But when he discusses them, they’re a priority. The Governor likes to play politics, but when it comes to New Jersey’s economy and creating opportunities for struggling families in New Jersey I draw the line. The decision facing the governor is clear and simple — sign the bills.”