Nicole Rodriguez, President of New Jersey Policy Perspective, a Trenton-based think tank that drives policy change to advance economic, social, and racial justice. The organization is a member of the Quality Institute’s Consumer Council.
You became President of New Jersey Policy Perspective in June of last year. How would you characterize your vision for the organization?
I want to solidify us as the policy research arm of the state with strategic guidance to coalitions and campaigns inside and outside the system, working to move the state closer to where everybody can prosper. And this requires us to work more intentionally with structurally underserved groups and form comprehensive partnerships with Black and Latinx leaders and organizations at every level of New Jersey Policy Perspective — to better inform our work toward racial, social, and economic justice. We’re a small but mighty team. And there’s always more work to be done and more to be learned.
Your organization and the Quality Institute have worked closely on issues related to health care affordability, such as surprise medical bills, health cost transparency, and Cover All Kids. If you must come up with one single policy change you want to see related to affordability, what would that be?
I think it’s important to address health care affordability in New Jersey in a way that also promotes racial equity. One critical policy change is to expand Medicaid eligibility to cover all residents regardless of their immigration status. Right now, undocumented adults in New Jersey are not eligible for Medicaid and other public health insurance programs, which can result as significant barriers to accessing health care for individuals and families who are already facing economic and social challenges. And we’ve been so successful with the enrollment of Cover All Kids. We’ve had over 12,000 kids enrolled since January. These are the kids that were previously ineligible due to immigration status. It’s now time to expand that to adults, who could be the parents of these kids.
We know that the New Jersey Policy Perspective supports reproductive justice. What can you tell us about your accomplishments in this area?
With support from the National Institute for Reproductive Health, NJPP helped develop Thrive New Jersey, a statewide coalition of over 50 organizations working collectively to promote sexual and reproductive health rights and justice through policy change and advocacy. Coalition members have put their weight behind several bills, including the Address Confidentiality Bill, which was signed into law and brings even more safeguards to survivors of sexual assault and stalking.
But most excitingly, we worked tooth and nail to advance the Reproductive Freedom Act, which was groundbreaking legislation that removes barriers to abortion care and creates more equitable access to reproductive health care.
Let’s say you’re in charge of state budget. What revenue and spending changes would you prioritize?
The state budget reflects our values and what we want to do together —and how we come together as a state to pay for important programs and services. But with corporate profits at record-breaking levels and the constant push of corporations trying to codify tax loopholes, New Jersey lawmakers right now are poised to give the biggest and most profitable businesses operating in the state a multi-million-dollar tax break at the end of the year.
For instance, there is a proposal to eliminate the corporate business tax surcharge that will cost New Jersey $1 billion in annual revenue. And this will threaten the state’s ability to sustainably fund programs and infrastructure that families, communities, and businesses all rely on.
And this change would only benefit a select few highly profitable corporations providing an average tax cut of about $5 million to corporations with more than $100 million in annual profits. And I think this is important right now because with the rising inflation and potential economic downturn on the horizon, working people cannot subsidize this enormous tax cut for the most profitable corporations.
Finally, we like to ask a question beyond your professional life. Who is your favorite New Jersey artist?
Whitney Houston, hands down. You can’t argue with that voice. I love her music. And my favorite song forever — my ringtone — is I Want to Dance with Somebody. I was also thinking about how important her legacy has been in terms of public health, and how critical it is to shine a light on her brave battles with addiction and how we can use her story to reduce stigma and have positive conversations about policies we need to fight for and with people who are seeking support.