Public Comment on Christie’s Budget Begins in Bergen County

Former president George W. Bush knew what a budget was. As he explained, “It’s clearly a budget. It’s got a lot of numbers in it.” The NJ Budget Summary starting July 1, 2015 has over 80 pages replete with numbers, and the final Budget Detail report when available will exceed 500 pages. Missing is sufficient funding for two big-ticket items: state contribution to the pension fund and the Transportation Trust fund. Individual departments have little or no increase to meet inflation or growing needs.

Vice President Joe Biden once said, “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” This budget represents Gov. Christie’s values, choices, and aspirations – shrinking the size of government, reducing regulations, aiding big business, moving dedicated funds to bolster the General Fund, maintaining the bona fides necessary for a Republican presidential candidate, and obscuring his intentions. Christie holds most of the cards (including line item veto) but the legislature will have an opportunity to make some changes. They can add an item such as revenue from a millionaire’s tax surcharge or increase, decrease or remove a departmental budget line item. At the end of the process the legislature fine-tunes the budget, Christie takes out what he wishes, and we end up theoretically with a balanced budget by June 30.    

People came to Paramus in Bergen County today to express their concerns, needs and points of view. The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee met there to hold its first of two public hearings. There will also be an additional three Assembly hearings. Polite but solicitous citizens raised many objections to Christie’s budget proposals. You can read their comments below the fold.

In the first two hours these were the  speakers’ main concerns: reducing the waiting list for services for the intellectually and developmentally disabled, shortchanging school funding, expanding Medicaid physician services, restoring funding for non-public schools, fully funding the pension plan, failed policy of institutional mental facility closures, more aid for special education, more supportive housing and services for recovering addicts, more funding for the medically fragile in residential settings, more hospital charity care funding, more help for those with alcohol and other drug addictions, necessity to decrease child poverty, spend less on corporate subsidies and provide data to evaluate these programs, more help for soup kitchens and food pantries, raise the gas tax to fund the Transportation Trust Fund, more rehabilitative services for people with brain injuries, and provide the full amount of funding to a specific charter school.

Early in the public hearing Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco addressed the senate committee and said to Chairman Paul Sarlo, “You asked what we need. We need more money.” Such was the general theme of today’s event. Tedesco was asking that more funds be returned to the county. In particular he sought an extension of light rail transportation from Hudson into Bergen county and DOT work on the bottleneck at Route 17.

36 people registered to provide public testimony – somewhat fewer than in past years. When the proceedings began there were about 150 people in the audience, but many left after their presentations while new people arrived. NJTV, Melissa Hayes (Bergen Record) and John Reitmeyer (NJ Spotlight) were among the press in attendance. Most of the 13 members of the committee were present although one person addressing the committee at around noon lamented the fact that few of them were then on the dais. (Outside the hall around a corner was a room for members and staff to eat and chat.)

More privately I asked Sen. Sarlo whether the legislature would add revenue to accommodate a millionaire’s tax surcharge. His cryptic response was “Maybe. Maybe.”

Some random comments from speakers: “The economy is not growing.” “Legislators are dealing with bad choices.” “Too much time is being spent on school testing.” “There are not enough good jobs.” “Access for care to the poor and vulnerable should not be sacrificed.” “Borrowing $600 million for transportation funding and adding to our debt is not the solution.” “One-shot gimmicks don’t help.”

For the dates and and locations for the four remaining public hearings go HERE. For another report on today’s hearing go HERE.

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