What a Cory Booker Budget Might Look Like

New Jersey Capitol and State OutlineNewark Mayor Cory Booker won Wednesday’s special election for the open New Jersey Senate seat, but taxpayers may not be aware of the policies that he plans to bring to the higher chamber. Fortunately, NTU Foundation released studies on the spending that Mayor Booker and his opponent, former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, proposed before the election to inform those in the Garden State exactly what the candidates said and how their words could translate into changes in the federal budget. We highlighted the candidates’ agendas by posting their full line-by-line reports, creating easy-to-read infographics, and offering taxpayers additional information to understand what programs the two candidates would add or drop from the government’s ledger. Now, let’s take a look at exactly what New Jerseyans have voted for and how the rest of the country might be affected by this special election.

We used direct quotes from Booker and his campaign literature and matched it with budget proposals, existing legislation (as scored by the BillTally system), and other estimates by third parties, like the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Government Accountability Office. Any proposal that could not be clearly identified or quantified was listed as an unknown cost. Our intention is to show how detailed the platforms were and where the candidates needed to give the public more information.

Booker’s Overall Platform: NTUF found that, overall, he would increase spending by $33 billion each year. The total is the net effect of 23 measures that were able to be identified (20 spending increase items and three decreases). An additional 35 policies that Booker said or wrote about had unknown costs or savings.

His Policy Focus: Booker’s key points of emphasis were on improving America’s education and criminal justice systems. For education, the study identified seven policies that would change how the Department of Education facilitates higher education. Many aimed to increase student aid in the form of more and larger Pell Grants and ensuring that subsidized Stafford Loans would remain available at low interest rates. Just taking new spending for colleges and universities, NTUF found that two of the proposals would increase spending by $654 million and could not determine the costs associated with the other five. The seven measures are strictly spending dedicated to higher education; other proposals like doubling research grants in the America COMPETES Act would likely increase spending for colleges as well.

Booker’s other goal was to improve the criminal justice system. This category had a wide range of policies but making overall improvements to how courts interact with criminals and inmates make up the largest number of proposals (five). Approximately $136 million in additional funding would be allocated to the Department of Justice for the three items that NTUF was able to quantify. One would increase spending by giving more funds to local entities for community drug courts and two would decrease spending: eliminating the crack and powder cocaine disparity, and decreasing the number of criminals in prisons. We could not put price tags on two other measures: eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing and ending the use of private prisons.

The Senator-Elect’s Spending Focus: Even with the multitude of proposals mentioned above, one platform point that Booker made in a campaign policy paper made up over 60 percent of his total annual spending total: passing comprehensive immigration reform. As already passed in the Senate, Booker pledged to pressure the House to also pass the bill, which would overhaul the current system and increase border security and infrastructure. Using a CBO estimate of the Act as passed, NTUF credited Booker with a $20.2 billion spending increase. Another policy that was touched on in the above section is doubling federal research spending related to the America COMPETES Act. We used spending figures from a 2013 Congressional Research Service report and mapped out how much spending would increase each year to reach a total $58 billion by FY 2021. It was determined that such a measure would mean an average $4.9 billion rise in funding for each of the next five years, and additional increases thereafter.

His Savings Plans: Booker’s three savings proposals include the two mentioned in his criminal justice system reforms and repealing spending associated with oil and gas exploration. His stance against providing benefits to oil and gas companies is one that has appeared in numerous campaigns at both the Senatorial and Presidential levels, but almost all of the budgetary points occur on the revenue side in the form of tax credits. The one program that does include outlay costs is the Ultra-deepwater Oil and Gas Research and Development Program. The President’s FY 2014 Budget request proposes to phase this program out, which would save $50 million over three years. Booker has supported this proposal as well.

What All of This Doesn’t Include: The 35 proposals that NTUF was unable to score in Booker’s platform cover a wide range of government programs and activities. For example, he proposed to support climate change legislation without offering details about what kind of action he would like to see (presumably a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system). Another example is his entire health care plan, in which he seeks to increase prenatal, preventative, and outreach services. Some points include grants while other statements only go so far as to say he wants to see improvements in a certain care area.

What taxpayers should take away from NTUF’s study is that Booker, as well as Lonegan, did not offer enough information to Americans during their campaigns. As a result, we truly do not know what a budget would look like in the eyes of Cory Booker. Some of his points would decrease spending but it is unclear how much of those savings would offset his proposals when considered with how much his unknown items could cost.