Is New Jersey in the place it needs to be moving forward?

Not just with the COVID-19 pandemic but with schools, law enforcement, the tax rate, affordability of living and working in the Garden State among other health, safety and financial concerns?

It's election season and a big decision looms for voters come November.

The Republican nominee and challenger to Phil Murphy for Governor, Jack Ciattarelli who is also a former State Assemblyman, has plans in the works to make changes across the board to lower taxes and hear the voices of local leaders in making decisions affecting the quality of life and work in New Jersey.

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Here are four things to consider when casting your vote this fall.

1. School Funding

The School Funding Formula, or S2, has been a saving grace for underfunded school districts in the state and a dagger to the budgets of all the other districts said to be "overfunded", and it's lead to layoffs and work not getting done or upgraded among other concerns.

Toms River Regional Schools in particular is set to lose $8-million dollars for the upcoming school year, the 2nd most for any district in the state with districts such as Brick, Jackson and Freehold Regional not too far behind.

Many school leaders have said that it's not that underfunded districts shouldn't get funds but that they don't want to be stripped of state aid in the process, that there should be another, more fair way of ensuring every school has what they need.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney previously explained to Townsquare Media News that the formula, based on social and economic issues, is designed to provide each school district with 100-percent funding exactly.

There is a lack of balance in the formula and disadvantages, Jack Ciattarelli tells Townsquare Media News, that disproportionally impacts districts.

"The current formula and the way it disadvantages a town like Toms River, a town like Bridgewater Township, a town like Parsippany is the current formula is nefarious, it's arbitrary, it's unfair and I will go as far as to say it's unconstitutional," Ciattarelli said.

The school funding formula takes into account the local economy but the proper usage of those numbers and trying to compare and contrast to other communities is seemingly becoming a plan with holes.

It's something that will be a top priority to change, right away, for Ciattarelli.

"In my very first budget, we will have a new school funding formula that provides a flatter and more equitable distribution of state aid for schools and we can lower property taxes and we can do that without leaving any child or any community behind and without adversely affecting the quality of education," Ciattarelli said. "We need a new school funding formula and for me it's something along the lines of X for every English speaking student, Y for every English language learner and the state takes over the cost of special education because there should not be disparity in the quality of special education from one district to the next."

Ciattarelli also has plans to work with local school leaders in determining the next best steps and what each community needs to help students, teachers and staff.

"Just because you're the governor or a mayor, it doesn't necessarily mean you have all the answers and so you've got to engage with people on the front lines particularly those who are directly impacted by the policy that you're putting in place," Ciattarelli said. "You've got to listen and you've got to go out and make your case. We're going to come up with something that works for all of New Jersey, all of New Jersey, because right now that's not the case, Toms River is getting screwed."

2. Economy

New Jersey is becoming more and more of a tough place to be able to afford to live and work with sky high taxes, unlike most other states.

Which is among the reasons people are making a hard call to leave the state where they grew up and have family so they can keep a roof over their heads, food on the table and be able to keep more of their hard earned money to not only pay bills but be able to find some time for rest and relaxation.

The current recession stems not only from the pandemic and restrictions in place but follows a trend in the Garden State for years due to raising of taxes or solutions that haven't worked out to ease the pain of a lot of residents.

Ciattarelli seeks to change and remedy the current situation so dire for so many, among other emotions and realities, by making home ownership more affordable and reforming the tax code with a 0-percent rate for taxable income up to $20,000 as well as allowing your retirement to be income tax free and making student loan interests tax deductible.

He is also looking to lower our property taxes, which "are the highest in the nation" and make it better for business and job growth.

"New Jersey is considered the most unfriendly for business in the country, we have the most unfriendly business climate in the nation. You can't create jobs here in the state and have people achieve their American Dream, the working poor is never going to find the middle class, the middle class is never going to get ahead, seniors are not going to be able to retire here, young people aren't going to be able to get a start here until we make New Jersey a better place to do business," Ciattarelli said.

It's a tall mountain to climb to reduce taxes while simultaneously trying to get out from under New Jersey's massive debt but Ciattarelli intends on doing that with reducing spending being part of the solution.

"Our state government is bloated, inefficient and been corrupted by special interests. It needs to be downsized, it needs to be streamlined, it needs to be modernized...I will do that," Ciattarelli said.

You would see immediate changes for relief, Ciattarelli explains.

"It'll be reflected in my very first budget."

3. Restoring Respect for Law Enforcement 

From legislative action to social broad brushing in certain circles, immunity, protection and certain police protocols and respect has been taken away from law enforcement who have had to adjust to these new challenges.

There's been a lot of changes and less time for police to react to them.

It took a while to get to this point and it may take some time to restore that order but Ciattarelli has plans to do just that while holding those in the wrong accountable for their actions.

It would start at the top of state government.

"The governor and his or her attorney general is ultimately responsible for the publics safety and what you never here from this Governor (Phil Murphy) or the Attorney General who recently moved on (Gurbir Grewal), is anything that said they supported local law enforcement whose job has never been harder," Ciattarelli said. "In fact, their decisions and the executive orders that have come out of the Attorney General have only discouraged people from pursuing law enforcement as a career. We used to get 20,000 applicants on an annual basis to be on the State Police, the number of applicants is down to 2,000. We're discouraging people from taking a job that protects us, that's not good for what's going on in New Jersey."

Change would be coming on multiple fronts in legislative action and language, words.

"This governor will make sure New Jersey observes the rule of law and make sure that it has the back of local law enforcement and my attorney general will as well, that hasn't been the case and you've seen it time and again," Ciattarelli said. "This discussion that has not been tamped down, in my opinion, with regard to disband, defund and reimagine police...anything that's good or great can always be made better and I'll be the first to admit we need some reforms. I think we need more females in uniform, I think we need more black people in uniform, more brown people in uniform, I think that we need more cultural competency training as part of their continuing professional development, I think it should be easier to get rid of a 'bad cop' just as it would be a 'bad teacher' but We Are Not, under Governor Ciattarelli and my attorney general, going to Disband, Defund or Reimagine. We'll make it better but we will have their back."

4. Quality of Life, Women's Health

With regards to quality of life issues including how it relates to unborn children, Ciattarelli has supported the 'Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act' and supports parents being notified if their minor/child is seeking an abortion while opposing taxpayers funding abortions and the proposed 'Reproductive Freedom Act', encouraging women to go full term with a pregnancy while respecting women's rights.

"I'm all about women's health but if we're going to end up sending money to places like Planned Parenthood, I think we should also send money to a lot of pregnancy resource centers that don't advocate for abortion, that talk to women about carrying the pregnancy full-term," Ciattarelli said. "I just think that there needs to be parody in the way that we do funding here in New Jersey, but let me very clear, I'm all for women's health, I know there's a great many young women who rely on places like Planned Parenthood for things other than an abortion."

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