Photo of John Harmon courtesy of African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey.


By John Harmon | African American Chamber of Commerce of NJ

As we approach two major upcoming elections for our state, U.S. senator and governor, the question that remains unanswered is “what’s in it for us?”

The immediate reaction for some, is that Harmon is talking about the 1.2 million Blacks which still have the highest poverty, unemployment low median income, home ownership of 35% and a net worth of approximately $17,000 vs. $322,000 for White New Jersey residents, or is he referring to the over 88,000 Black businesses of which only 3.5 percent have employees?

Perhaps he is speaking about our state legislators still allowing education, occupation, and credit scoring to be used as proxies to determine auto insurance premiums for licensed drivers.

During the last legislative session, the minimum insurance coverage was raised from $15,000 to $30,000, another direct adverse impact on those with minimal disposable income in New Jersey. This was in addition to the three auto insurance premium proxies which are burdensome alone.

Our state also allows its taxpayers to contribute to the funding of public projects and a select group not only receives a preference when these opportunities are distributed but, it’s a culture of perpetual practice. For example, in 2004 Governor McGreevey issued Executive Order Number 1[1] which allowed all public contracts to be governed by Project Labor Agreements (PLA) which only allowed for non-unionized businesses to participate up to $5 million. 

This Executive Order is approaching its 20th Anniversary, without any change notwithstanding the election of several US Senators and Governors since that time.

It is important to note, that our last two democratic presidents whose PLA thresholds at the Federal level were 5 and 7 times higher: President Obama $25 million[2] and Biden $35 million[3], than Governor McGreevey’s Executive Order threshold of $5 million in 2004. How can the Democratic Party in NJ be so misaligned on an economic agenda that it is supposedly representative of its constituency? 

According to the Associated Builders and Contractors New Jersey Chapter, 79% of our state’s construction firms are non-union and 21% are members of a trade union. Additionally, only 2% of minority contractors are members of a trade union.

Furthermore, as we begin to embark on the $16 billion dollar Gateway Tunnel project in which the PLA threshold will take precedence, McGreevey’s five million on Biden’s $35 million.

It is time for our state and federal representatives to respond to these and other questions.

The time has long passed for the voters of New Jersey to have a consensus on an equitable economic agenda versus party bosses. The potential implications would not only be beneficial to Blacks but to all of New Jersey’s taxpayers. 

The above are kitchen table pocketbook issues that affect hardworking New Jerseyans every day and our current policy makers continue to remain silent on these transformational issues.

Trust me, we have asked these questions at every level of government and their silence is a pure insult. There is plenty of room for compromise on each of these issues.

So again, that will be the difference this election season because for now the status quo appears in full effect: the same old politicians seeking to advance the same old playbook.

We need the citizens of New Jersey from every community to muster the courage and ask the above questions now and demand an on-the-record response regarding where they stand. In the coming years there will be a tremendous amount of economic opportunity to potentially be shared. Let’s join hands and reach a consensus to improve the competitiveness of our state.

NOTE: John Harmon is the founder and current president/CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey. He is responsible for establishing, implementing, and executing the organization’s mission and for its fiduciary oversight and governance.

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