TRENTON ? Senator Barbara Buono, Chair of the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee, released the following statement as the Senate considered S-2009/A-2800, the State?s spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1. It received final approval 23-16.
?This budget makes progress toward rebuilding the public?s trust in their elected representatives.
?The Senate budget committee, Democrats and Republicans alike, did an outstanding job in making Governor Corzine?s initial spending plan better. We managed to discuss difficult issues, became heated at times, but always maintained a collegial tenor without the petty bickering.
?While past practices have led us to the brink of financial ruin, we have crossed a threshold into fiscal sanity. This budget is historic in that it reduces spending across the board in every single department resulting in a budget that has reduced spending over last year by over $600 million. And, there are no new taxes.
?We have dedicated unanticipated revenue to paying down our massive state debt which is crushing our ability to fund valuable programs and services for our residents.
?There are no ?Christmas Tree? add-ons which in the past have been roundly criticized for the surreptitious way they found their way into the budget with little or no public scrutiny.
?This budget has not just cut spending, but it has cut short the one-shot gimmicks such as asset sales and law suit settlements to balance it.
?We have chosen to make the difficult and agonizing choices necessary to turn the corner to honest budgeting within our means.
?The spending cuts were not indiscriminate. While the budget is shackled by mandatory expenses, such as pension and health care costs and debt services, we were able to increase support for education by $600 million and to restore a portion of support for higher education, municipal aid and family care, to name but a few core services.
?Medicaid co-pays are eliminated. Small business development centers are maintained.
?When asked how it feels to sponsor the budget, I replied, ?How do you suppose it feels when direct care workers who serve the sickest, the oldest and the poorest in our nursing homes plead not to cut nursing home funds because their patient case load is already unsustainable?? These individuals are very special people to our loved ones they care for. They serve as surrogate families for our parents when we can?t be there.
?If ever there were angels in our midst, all the direct care workers would qualify and yet they work for a pittance.
?How do you suppose it feels to be unable to include a cost of living increase in their meager pay?
?If it doesn?t make you lose sleep ? well, it should.
?How about when you?re asked not to cut funds for cancer research and smoking cessation when you know we would be saving lives by investing more and more?
?So while this process has been transformative, it (also) has been painstaking and tortuous. My hope is that the difficult decisions we have made this year will translate into more needs being met next year.
?While the Legislature has considered the Governor?s initial proposal and I believe, made it even better, let us look ahead to a time in the not too distant future when our State budget will better serve the needs of the many.?