TRENTON - Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono has unveiled her economic plan for the state, and it contrasts sharply with Gov. Chris Christie's policies.
Buono's plan, presented early Monday, focuses on shoring up the middle class. It provides tax breaks to small businesses, pledges to make higher education more affordable and restores safety net cuts made by Christie during his first term.
The former chairwoman of the Senate budget committee says her plan "reflects an understanding that economic growth begins with the middle class. We will create better jobs in New Jersey not just by offering tax credits to corporations, but by investing in our workforce, schools, working families, small businesses and infrastructure."
But Christie, who has dominated the campaign against Buono so far, says his opponent's unstated agenda is to raise taxes that kill jobs and stifle economic growth.
An oft-used campaign line, recited again Tuesday, is that Buono has voted to raise taxes and fees 154 times during her 18 years in the legislature. Those include additional fees on builders and developers and increases in energy taxes.
Christie, a Republican who is popular among business leaders and enjoys high job approval ratings overall, has approved generous corporate subsidies - worth more than $2 billion overall - to attract new businesses to the state and keep those already here from leaving.
He has spent less on worker training, rejected a tax surcharge for millionaires and vetoed the Democrats' attempt at raising the minimum wage by at least $1 per hour. Christie offered a smaller wage increase phased in over three years, which Democrats rejected. The issue will be settled by voters with a question on the November ballot.
Buono's plan shifts tax subsidies away from corporations and toward the 95 percent that are categorized as small businesses, with emphasis on those in advanced fields such as biotechnology and life sciences.
She also has plans to address New Jersey's "brain drain" - the 30,000 college-bound students who leave each year to attend school out of state. Her plan strives to keep tuition affordable, in part by increasing scholarships and student aid, and to restore the state as a leader in research. Buono says she would also rely more heavily on county colleges and vocational schools to train and re-train workers for available jobs in emerging fields.
The plan relies on partnerships to save money, connections she says her administration would help forge between emerging market businesses and colleges and universities.
Buono's plan for urban centers includes starting an investment bank so would-be business owners can access capital, providing tax credits in areas with high unemployment and renewing the Urban Enterprise Zone program, which Christie cut. Purchases made in UEZ areas are rewarded with sales tax breaks.
Part of the plan is pure anti-Christie. It calls for restoring a cut the governor made to a tax credit for the working poor and renewing the state's commitment to clean energy, a fund Christie has raided of hundreds of millions of dollars to plug budget holes.
Buono, who differs with Christie on most issues, has struggled to raise money and get across her message. She trails by about 30 points in recent polls.
The election is Nov. 5.