Legislators Question Labor, Environment Commissioners On FY 2020 Budget

New Jersey’s Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo says he’s building a more responsive, more consumer-friendly department.

“It has been an ambitious first year,” Asaro-Angelo said.

The governor is proposing to increase the Labor Department’s budget by $12 million to $976 million. More money to hire inspectors to ensure employers pay employees, such as last week’s “Justice for Workers” enforcement initiative.

“Notably, the department is transitioning from solely complaint-driven enforcement to a more strategic enforcement position,” said Asaro-Angelo.

Asaro-Angelo says he has multiple initiatives to get New Jerseyans working. That includes establishing an Office of Apprenticeships.

“Our job is to be a kind of Match.com: pairing our employers in high-demand industries with workers who can learn specialized skills these employers value and rely on,” he said.

The commissioner says too many employers are mis-classifying workers as independent contractors: more than 12,000 workers last year and underpaying the state by $14 million in unemployment and temporary disability contributions.

“Those numbers based on audits of just 1% of employers. In other words, we estimate that $46.2 billion was improperly paid on 1099s last year instead of W-2s. That’s $46.2 billion,” he said.

Senators wondered about the department’s impact on businesses.

“When does it begin to impact the business community at a point when the business community says ‘Enough’?” asked Sen. Paul Sarlo, chair of the budget committee.

“I think that we should never stop protecting our workers, and improving our economy and making lives easier for our businesses. I don’t think it has to be a zero-sum gain,” said Asaro-Angelo.

“In an economy that’s still struggling to recover from the Great Recession, does it make sense to pursue policies and programs that would make it even harder for a business to operate in the state,” said Sen. Samuel Thompson.

“I am very attuned and sensitive to actions businesses need to take,” said Asaro-Angelo.

The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee also took testimony on the proposed budget for the state Department of Environmental Protection and its policies.

The DEP budget will actually increase over last year in part because of $50 million from the Exxon settlement. The DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe says she’s committed to keeping the pedal on companies that pollute and shirk their responsibility.

“The phone went silent during the eight years of the Christie administration on that, because no one was filing lawsuits, and I guess there’s no motivation to come and offer to settle with DEP,” said McCabe.

One senator asked about the Volkswagen settlement and making the air cleaner.

“Will a large part of the funds be used to get diesel trucks off the road?” said Sen. Linda Greenstein.

“I would hope that some of these are going to get the diesel trucks off the road,” McCabe said.

Sen. Troy Singleton wondered why the administration is not offering incentives to put more electric vehicles on the road.

“This idea that, that to get from here to there, we still got to wait. I think we could get from here to there faster without waiting for a broader energy master plan. We could start utilizing those things now,” Singleton said.

I didn’t mean to suggest that we were waiting, Senator,” responded McCabe.

Singleton says he’ll use his position to accelerate driving the state and the DEP toward to a cleaner future.

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