Sun Editorial: A recent report on the state’s economy might not tell the whole story

The American Legislative Exchange Council Center for State Fiscal Reform ranked the state ranked 49th in economic performance.

By Alan Bauer
The Sun

Things are bad and probably will remain bad. That’s the message for New Jersey from the “Rich States, Poor States” report published by the American Legislative Exchange Council Center for State Fiscal Reform.

The report takes a look at a state’s past economic performance and offers its assessment for the future. New Jersey didn’t score well in either category.

The state ranked 49th when it came to economic performance, based on such criteria as people leaving the state (516,326 from 2006 to through 2016) and non-farm employment growth (a paltry .54 percent during the same time frame).

Looking ahead, only four states had bleaker futures, according to the report. The economic outlook category considered 15 variables, such as property tax burden (New Jersey ranked 48), estate taxes (50) and various other taxes, regulations and policies.

Considering Gov. Murphy wants to hike taxes — including a return to the 7 percent sales tax rate — it’s doubtful the scores will get better any time soon.

But does the report tell the whole story? Some, including Murphy, will say residents will pony up the tax dollars if they feel they are getting a reasonable return on investment. They will argue public services, such as education, are valued highly, and taxpayers prefer to pay a premium than to see services decline.

The best scenario is probably something in the middle — a balance between taxes and government regulation and quality public services. Either extreme — outrageous taxes or crumbling public services — can lead to the same outcome: a diminished quality of life for residents.

It’s up to state leaders to find that balance. Since multiple reports show more people leaving New Jersey than moving in, it looks like they have more work to do.