Education Fairness, AC Takeover, Legalizing Marijuana All Topics at State Budget Hearing

An Assembly committee heard from residents about the proposed $34.8 billion budget.

By Brenda Flanagan

“I’m just a mom. I’m not anything else,” said Amanda Rivera.

Rivera joined about 60 Paterson parents who packed a hearing before the Assembly Appropriations Committee hearing public concerns about the proposed $34.8 billion state budget. Rivera literally cried for help as their state-run school district faces deep spending cuts talked about her six kids.

“What else do you guys want to take from them? There’s barely anything left. Help us. That’s all I can say — we need help,” she said.

“We have to come here and ask for fairness for education, that we have to cry at this table, because we don’t know where else to go. We’re not going to get help from Chris Christie,” said Paterson resident Ernest Rucker Jr.

Ninety-one people — not including the busload from Paterson — signed up to plead their case before the committee. Among them, Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian, whose town will run out of cash next month, but who still refuses to accept a state takeover.

“We feel that first bill is just too far-going. It’s not needed. We’re a cooperative city that wants to help get out of our problems but we do need help from the state of New Jersey,” he said.

Meanwhile, Gov. Christie also drew fire from transportation advocates for saying the bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund isn’t a crisis.

“The governor’s failure to address the transportation funding problem has contributed to one in three of New Jersey bridges being structurally deficient or functionally obsolete,” said Tri-State Transportation Campaign Senior New Jersey Policy Analyst Janna Chernetz.

She called on lawmakers to raise the gas tax, to fund transportation. And one group actually suggested to lawmakers a source of revenue — hundreds of millions in tax profits — if New Jersey would legalize recreational marijuana like Colorado, for example.

“I believe that Colorado has surpassed even what they believed they would be drawing in, in terms of revenue, and this year had almost a billion dollars in sales,” said New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform Committee Member Bill Caruso.

One lawmaker noted decriminalizing marijuana would save money, too.

“It’s not just the incarceration itself — because a lot of individuals arrested for this are not incarcerated — but the time and effort put into the arrest and the process in the courts are time consuming and expensive,” said Assemblyman Gordon Johnson.

While these budget hearings give many groups a voice, and lawmakers can add dollars to the budget, Gov. Christie often gets the final say via line item veto.