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Life in Post-Apocalyptic New Jersey: Climbing the water tower to defend our honor

Tree down on a road about a mile from my house the day after Sandy.

I read a post by Chicago Dyke at Corrente this afternoon that was a little disturbing.  CD thinks that Chris Christie’s request of $36 billion is too much.  I think Chicago Dyke has a distorted perception of who actually lives here in New Jersey but I’ll address that in a minute.  Here’s my response to her from my comment at Corrente (edited) with an additional point that I think any liberal would love to sign on to:

New Jersey resident here climbing the water tower with a bucket of paint to defend new New Jersey’s honor.

First, we in NJ have been footing the bill for the rest of the country for years now. For every dollar of taxes we send to DC we get $.61. That’s right, we lose almost 40 cents of every dollar. We make up for the shortfall by paying the most punitive property taxes in the country. While I would LOVE to send my $.39/dollar of taxes to Michigan, it usually gets sucked down by Mississippi and Alabama who hate us for our freedoms.

Second, this is the densest state in the nation. There are a lot of buildings and a lot of people. And real estate here is not cheap. I live in the NYC metropolitan area in central Jersey where the average house price in my town is about $450K and the median salary is $108k per year. And at that salary, you’re barely middle class. I was making about $100k when I got laid off and I live in a modest townhouse and drive a second hand car that I bought in 2007. It’s just fricking expensive here.  So, anything that needs to be repaired is going to cost a fortune.

Third, the businesses wiped out at the Jersey shore are seasonal. There’s not a whole lot going on there in the winter. The shore businesses make their money from May to September. Imagine if you were the owner of a store in a mall and the mall burned to the ground before Christmas.  Now, imagine thousands of stores in that predicament. There are many people who will lose their shirts and their jobs next year if these businesses can’t be rescued.  The problem can be somewhat alleviated next year if we start now.

The shore is great for families who want something between a cruise and a staycation.  You rent a house there for a week or two, invite everyone you know and enjoy the sun and sea. So, tourism is big in this state. Homeowners who had their seasonal rental properties wiped out and restaurants and motels amusements all have to be somewhat ready before next summer.  By the way, I’ve rented a house at the Jersey Shore and it was just a little bungalow, nothing fancy.  It was no three story modern monstrosity on the beach.  Most of the properties down there are not owned by the fabulously wealthy.  They’re just simple little vacation homes with few frills.  The owners are the people who are going to be really hurting next year if they can’t rent their houses.

Four, the devastation was pretty bad in Newark, Jersey City and Hoboken. Those are not high rent districts, except for Hoboken, which is becoming gentrified and is the hot place to live if you can’t afford Manhattan. In other words, these cities were already hit hard by decades of neglect followed by an economic downturn starting in 2008. I think I know your heart CD and I don’t think you wish further hardship on these people. Not everyone lives in Princeton.

Five, the devastation was wide spread. This much I know for sure because I see it every fricking day. There are still parts of my township that were without power up until last week. The number of trees that are down is unbelievable. I mean, you really have to be here to see it. Some people walked out of their houses the day after the storm and were electrocuted on their front porches. I did a video of a neighborhood near mine. Check it out. There were huge trees down on almost every property, streets blocked off from fallen power lines and one house that was literally surrounded by fallen power lines. I don’t know how people in that house were able to leave it safely. I was out of power for 5 days which wasn’t so bad but without power when I had the generator, you can’t turn on your furnace even if it’s gas. Some people had to go almost four weeks without heat in the middle of November.

Princeton *was* extremely hard hit. There were main streets in downtown Princeton that were blocked off because of dangerous fallen and falling trees. (Witherspoon was completely blocked off at Nassau Street) Up until last week, I was still driving thru parts of Princeton that had no working traffic signals. In the coming months, there will be many more deaths from this storm. There are still too many damaged trees close to the road. Yours truly is very afraid of driving around my area and Princeton because a car is bound to get hammered by one of them at any point in time.  But not everyone in Princeton is rich.  There are many students, graduate students with families and regular, working people who live in and around Princeton.

And as to the intensity of the storm, when your house vibrates and shakes from the wind and you can hear trees groaning and snapping all around you for about 3 hours straight, it’s not just your average storm.  It came ashore as a hurricane and met with another storm system.  And it was scary as hell to live through so let’s not trivialize it.  For some people, it was wind, storm surge and fire all in one night.  I think it gave Katrina a run for its money. There may not have been as many deaths from drowning but the damage to property is extensive and much worse than Katrina because it is over such a big, densely populated area.

Finally, this state had an unemployment rate of 10.2% BEFORE Sandy. It’s higher now because so many businesses were damaged or forced to close during the power failure or lost money because counties like mine declared a state of emergency and told everyone to stay indoors until the dangerous power lines and fallen trees and street lamps and overhead power supports could be secured. To give you an idea of how long that took, it was November 16 before the kids could go trick or treating safely.

Sandy has been awful for a lot of people but there is a silver lining. That is with $36 B (and to me, that sounds cheap but that’s because I know what things cost here) we can put a lot of people back to work doing construction, clean up, maybe forward planning, insurance adjusting, relocations, etc. There will be enough money to maybe jump start this economy, which believe it or not, has been harder hit during the little Depression than most people know.

And here’s the thing that liberals should be onboard for: since the stimulus money was inadequate, pumping $36 Billion into New Jersey would demonstrate something that even  Chris Christie doesn’t want to admit.  Stimulus works.  This state is in pretty bad shape but now there is an opportunity to do something about it.  Just burying the power lines would be a HUGE improvement and would put thousands of people to work.  We’ve lost so much in the past 4 years.  The pharmaceutical industry, which everyone loves to hate but I loved working for, has pulled out of New Jersey leaving thousands of well educated, technically current people out of work, under-employed and just flat broke.  Will those people be looking for jobs in the clean up?  Um, yeah.  And once they’re employed, they’ll get off the unemployment rolls and start pumping money back into the economy.  Some of that money will come in the form of taxes where we will, once again, give away $.39 of every dollar we send.

One more thing:  If Chris Christie wants to get re-elected and be a real hero, he could use Sandy to apply a tax overhaul shock doctrine.  Now is the time to reform the highly regressive property tax system and collect taxes from the people who actually make a lot of money, including all of the businesses here who have been welching on local townships.  Sure, it will look like something only a progressive FDR type could do but remember that FDR got re-elected- three times.

Think about it, Chris.

So, I hope I’ve changed your mind, CD. We really need the money. It will be well spent. And it will do a lot of working class and middle class people a lot of good. Those people have been funding the rest of America for years. It’s time for America to give back in our state’s hour of need

Here’s a video from MacJersey (kinda shaky) of Mantoloking on the shore.  Some of the houses were built in the 1920s and never expected to be part of an inlet.  The landscape has changed and part of the road infrastructure is gone.

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