Menendez bill aims to help cities pay the bills

Menendez bill aims to help cities pay the bills

By:  David Cruz

Like all of us, cities and towns have bills to pay, and when their income gets cut, paying the bills becomes difficult and often impossible.

But cities and towns are us, our neighbors. They’re the cops, firefighters and DPW workers. Basically, the village that keeps the village running.

As municipalities see their incomes dwindling and their expenditures growing in this global pandemic, the economic noose is beginning to tighten.

“We are a transitional aid city, so we receive a significant amount of assistance from the state. I mean, it’s almost the equivalent of, when we were children, receiving an allowance. So Paterson still gets an allowance to the tune of $30 million annually,” said Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh.

Sayegh was among a handful of New Jersey mayors who joined Sen. Bob Menendez on a conference call Tuesday morning to swap stories about challenges they’re facing to keep the doors open and the lights on, sometimes literally.

“Their challenges are pretty enormous. They’re losing revenues of every sort, whether it’s tax revenue, whether it’s hotel taxes, construction permit fees, across the spectrum,” Menendez said.

Menendez and Republican Bill Cassidy of Louisiana will introduce a bill that will create a $500 billion fund to help states and local governments continue to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and still provide the essential services.

“The reality is that we didn’t ask to lose nearly 8,000 of our fellow citizens. We didn’t ask for over 150,000 infections. We’d be happy not to be in this position. The reality is that this disease doesn’t know party affiliation, ethnicity, race or income,” Menendez said.

It’s a tall ask, especially from a Democrat who’s been critical of a president with a long memory, who’s already shown a lack of willingness to throw especially blue states a lifeline, even when their leaders come hat in hand, as Gov. Phil Murphy did last week.

“The financial assistance we need, and we need a significant amount. This is a big hit. This is somewhere in New Jersey alone could be $20 to $30 billion. But this is to allow us to keep firefighters, teachers, police, EMS on the payroll, serving the communities in their hour of need. And that’s something that we feel strongly about. We don’t see it as a bailout. We see this as a partnership,” Murphy said on April 30.

“I will say that’s a tough question because you’re talking about the states and whether you call it a bailout or a lot of money, a lot of it’s been used before you were there,” President Donald Trump replied.

Cities like Hoboken have already announced layoffs. Paterson is finalizing a plan for furloughs, and officials in Jersey City and Newark have also begun discussions about cutbacks.

With cities hoping to restart their economies slowly, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the state’s municipalities – and their residents – should start preparing for some very strong economic medicine in the months ahead.