New Jersey proposes a regional bloc to counter the Golden State?s Congressional powerStatehouse
Tired of losing what it views as its fair share of federal dollars, New Jersey is leading the way toward the creation of a regional voting bloc in Washington, D.C., that would bring together the state?s Congressional delegation with those of Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland.
Such a coalition ?will make the states more powerful,? says Bob Carullo, executive director of Strengthening the Mid-Atlantic Region for Tomorrow (SMART), a Trenton-based group that is pushing the initiative. ?It would be the nation?s first four-state formal caucus, but we expect other states to follow.?
The bloc would group together 43 U.S. representatives and eight U.S. senators, putting the four states on a nearly equal footing with California, which has 51 representatives in the House plus two U.S. senators.
Such a bloc could strengthen New Jersey?s ability to pry loose federal dollars. The state ranked dead last in 2003 in terms of what the federal government spent here compared with the taxes it collected. In the same year, New Jersey ranked a disappointing 22nd among the states in grants received from the National Institutes of Health. Such grants fund research by universities and firms that in turn create jobs and attract high-tech companies.
Trenton lawmakers are currently mulling a bill (A-3898) that would give $100,000 to SMART to provide staffers for the proposed four-state bloc. The Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee approved the measure last month and sent it to the full Assembly. The three other states have not yet taken up the matter.
?We are losing quite a bit to big states like California and Texas,? says Assemblyman Upendra J. Chivakula (D-Somerset), who sponsored the bill to join the voting bloc. ?A four-state compact should provide leverage for funding.?
The legislators of all four states would have to approve the measure and Congress would need to adopt legislation authorizing the interstate compact. The initiative has the support of much of New Jersey?s congressional delegation, including U.S. Senator Jon Corzine and Congressman Robert Andrews (D-1st District).
While members of the bloc wouldn?t always vote as a unit, the coalition could leverage their efforts to win support for legislation that benefits the entire region. This could include federal funds for highway and clean-air initiatives, military spending and scientific research and development.
The initiative has the support of some large corporations with a presence in the region, including defense contractors Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Carullo says Princeton and Rowan universities are also backers. ?If we can regionally collaborate sometimes, it makes more sense,? Carullo says. ?After all, the states have common interests.?
For example, one-third of the employees of a Boeing plant in suburban Philadelphia lives in New Jersey; many workers at a Lockheed Martin facility in Moorestown make their homes in Pennsylvania; Philadelphia?s Temple University runs a law school in Delaware; and DuPont has major facilities in both Delaware and Maryland.
The bloc would not put an end to intra-regional rivalry over matters like base closings. If the Pentagon?s proposal to shut Fort Monmouth were to win approval, much of the work now done there would go to Maryland. ?The states will still compete with each other in some cases,? Carullo says. ?That won?t end.?
The four-state compact was first suggested a decade ago by Congressman Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, who chaired the Research and Development Subcommittee of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee. Weldon ?noticed that a quarter of the spending on the U.S. military went to California,? says Carullo, ?and he thought, ?That?s not equitable.?? The reason, Weldon decided, was the clout exerted by California?s huge congressional delegation.
SMART began five years ago as a networking organization for universities, corporations and governments. Its five annual conventions and eight Capitol Hill receptions have led to partnerships between companies throughout the region that Carullo says have generated $420 million in federal funding.
Among those attending SMART functions has been EPS, a military engineering firm in Tinton Falls. Thomas Gagliano, a former state senator who is senior vice president of EPS, welcomes the prospect of a four-state compact.
?The main thing I see is that the four states involved would have one voice in all kinds of technologies, including medical research, pharmaceuticals, electronics and just about every field where there is a substantial amount of brain power,? Gagliano says. ?The members of Congress in the four states would finally be in a position of strength.?
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