As you may have heard, the NJ Legislature and Governor have reached an agreement on the State budget to balance it while providing a modest surplus. This is truly an accomplishment given the prior status of the budget. No one is 100% happy and that is the nature of compromise I suppose. AIA-NJ has been monitoring the budget negotiations closely. There have been some decisions made which will impact the economic opportunities for our profession. The two major ones are in the area of energy efficiency programs and school construction. The budget and subsequent legislation intends to redirect and repurpose now and in the future, the rate payer funds we all contribute through the societal benefit charge on our utility bill to the NJ Clean Energy Program. The funds collected are ear marked for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Many architects have found work opportunities related to window, insulation, roof, and building system upgrades spurred by the NJCEP programs. The Governor is attempting to repurpose these rate payer funds to close the State’s budget gap. I am personally extremely concerned about this for to several reasons including loss and stalling of projects for design and construction in an already tough economy that will have a ripple through the industry, loss of direction to meet the State’s Green House Gas reduction and energy efficiency goals which costs us all money, and the lastly the arbitrary repurposing of funds from rate payers without their approval for purposes they were never intended for. The societal benefit charge is not a State tax, it is a rate payer surcharge which creates this collective fund for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects for the greater good. The Mid Atlantic Sustainable Energy Industry Association has already filed a law suit to prevent this from happening. For more information on this action please contact MSEIA.
The second budgetary area of concern is the extreme cut in funding to our schools. This is an indirect property tax increase waiting to happen in my opinion. Additionally, many architects, contractors, manufacturers, and suppliers work in the school sector market. Many firms have already been severely affected by the freezing of ROD grants eliminating summer work typically counted on. ROD grants submitted a year ago are just being approved now in many cases. The ripple affect of this is as large, if not larger than the NJCEP issue. Beyond the obvious health, safety, and welfare of our children which many of the school projects pending approval are needed to address, the economic ramifications on the local economy are enormous. There is significant opportunity to improve the way the SDA oversees and constructs school projects, shifting dollars from program oversight to actual hard construction. AIA-NJ has engaged the SDA and Governor on this issue and is working to assist the State in creating a more efficient methodology to allow more construction projects to happen quicker. For more information on this please contact our Legislative and Government Affairs Committee.
AIA-NJ’s East Coast Green conference is moving along well. There are already over 20 vendors and sponsors signed up and growing and our program is receiving national recognition from AIA, BuildingGreen.com, and USGBC. Combined with AIA-NJ’s annual Design Day, one our goals of this conference is to showcase AIA-NJ architects to the public and assert our expertise in the green building market. Expanding our outreach and dialog for this event beyond a meeting of our peers will attract developers, owners, a decision makers to attend this conference and provide you with real business opportunities along with educational, professional development, and local and regional design recognition. Please take a moment to sign up before the early bird registration expires at www.aia-nj.org/ECG
Lastly, AIA-NJ has been diligent in protecting the practice of architecture. The President-Elect of the Newark and Suburban chapter, Yogesh Mistry, recently brought an erroneous and egregious article to the State’s attention which appeared in the Star Ledger advising home owners they did not need an Architect to do plans for new home construction and further asserting the services of an architect were too expensive. AIA-NJ acted swiftly in partnership with the Section and both submitted written letters of protest, along with our Regional Director, to the editor and author of the article. As a result a follow up article was already printed using much of the language from Yogesh’s letter from the Newark and Suburban Chapter correcting this illegal and unfounded advice. We have included the original article and the State’s response for your information. Please be diligent in defending the profession and bring any such incidents to our attention so we can respond appropriately. For this month, Yogesh Mistry, AIA, LEEDap has earned the AIA-NJ President’s member of the month commendation!
On a lighter note, our Nation’s birthday is coming up. Many local communities have family friendly activities. Have a safe, fun, and sustainable 4th of July Holiday!
Jason Kliwinski, AIA, LEED AP
Image of original Star Ledger Article published June 17, 2010, below: