By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
So little extra money, so many worthy causes.
The Assembly Budget Committee was beseeched today to spend a little more or rearrange priorities.
By the intellectually and developmentally disabled: “New Jersey has a rather long waiting list, priority list for services, and we would like to see that waiting list reduced by 330 this year and 1,000 over a three-year period,” said Former President of The ARC of New Jersey Wally Bender.
By CASA — court-appointed special advocates for children: “The posted budget would cut CASA funding by $850,000, that’s 42 percent, sending us back to FY ’08 level and undoing so much progress we have made for children,” said Associate Director of Court Appointed Special Advocates NJ Liza Kirschenbaum.
By Catholic hospitals: “For example, Trinitas serves in Elizabeth. They’re scheduled to receive $8.7 million less. They have very thin operating margins. This will have a devastating effect on them and deep, deep impact on the city of Elizabeth, and that is the only hospital in Elizabeth,” said Sister Patricia Codey, President of Catholic HealthCare Partnership of NJ.
Don’t forget libraries: “Approximately $3.6 million was cut in the governor’s first budget and not one penny of that has been restored. Our libraries get approximately 41 cents per person per year from the state,” said NJ Library Association Executive Director Pat Tumilty. “That’s not enough. You can’t even by a postage stamp for 41 cents.”
When asked if this a tough budget or a normal budget, Assemblyman Gary Schaer said, “It’s an extraordinarily tough budget for several reasons, not the least of which is at $33.8 billion, this budget doesn’t even touch upon what we’re doing with transportation. It represents less than 50 percent of what we’re supposed to be contributing to pensions. And we haven’t even discussed the obvious and other needs that the people of New Jersey need and want in terms of libraries, schools and higher education. So it’s an extraordinary tough budget I would suggest one of the toughest if not the toughest the state has ever confronted.”
“It ain’t easy. There are folks on the left and the right who suggest that it should be easy. The right, we hear, just cut everything. That’s a problem when you actually have to look people in the eye. We’re depending on a New Jersey budget. On the left, we hear, well, just tax the wealthy. That’s a garbage answer, too,” said Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon.
“We strongly urge the Legislature to reject the governor’s school aid proposal and recommend the following — one to increase K-12 state aid in all FSRA formula categories by at least 5 percent or $370 million,” said Education Law Center Policy and Outreach Director Sharon Krengel.
When asked how many competing interests are there for the limited dollars, Schaer said, “How many hairs do I have on my head?”
It’s the season for hard choices. The Assembly and Senate budget committees each have one more public hearing next week. The following week the state treasurer comes before each committee to defend the budget.