Lt. Gov. Oliver on New Jersey’s fiscal picture: ‘I’ve had to just suck it up’

Former Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver came to testify before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee as lieutenant governor and the commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs. She said nothing the department does is on a whim.

“The policy decisions that are made at the department are data-driven,” Oliver said.

Oliver talked a lot about housing, including improving inspections and cracking down on slumlords. She said a recent visit to Garden Spires Apartments with Section 8 housing found the same deplorable conditions as when former Newark Mayor Cory Booker pitched a tent in protest.

“We have been able to negotiate a sale of that property from that owner. A new owner has stepped forward. The new owner is going to invest $87,000 per unit to rehab and renovate,” said Oliver.

Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed budget would move $9 million from one housing program with shovel-ready projects to another with other housing goals.

“I, as a commissioner, have had to deal with the realities of the fiscal situation our state is in and I’ve had to just suck it up in acknowledging that,” said Oliver.

The lieutenant governor was blunt about the picture of New Jersey’s budget and what it has meant for affordable housing.

“We inherited a fiscal disaster that must be repaired. It could not happen in this one budget cycle, but we are devoted to charting a new path forward,” said Oliver.

Criticism of the previous administration but some praise as well for pushing to take over Atlantic City’s finances. Oliver says it’s turning around and sports betting will help it and the state, but she issued a caution.

“We do not want to rebuild an Atlantic City that survives solely on gambling,” she said.

Senators had questions about whether the Department of Community Affairs can help local governments take advantage of the state law to overcome the Trump administration doing away with SALT deductions.

“We certainly are going to work overtime to make that happen,” Oliver said.

Another focused on re-evaluating properties, taxes skyrocketing and freezing taxes for seniors.

“Senior freeze across the board is something that I think the administration, as well as the Legislature, needs to put some focus on,” Oliver replied.

On that, Oliver said, and reviving the 2 percent arbitration work cap on police and firefighter union contracts, which expired the end of last year.