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Buono’s Budget Priorities: Restore Municipal Aid, No Christmas Tree Items

TRENTON – Senator Barbara Buono, Chair of the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee, today said her top budget priorities are restoring cuts in state aid to municipalities, especially smaller towns hit hard by proposed reductions, and rejecting any bids to insert so-called “Christmas Tree Items” into the spending plan for the new fiscal year beginning July 1.

“Small municipalities should not be forced to pay a disproportionate share of higher taxes just because they are small,” said Senator Buono, D-Middlesex. “It’s untenable to impose devastating cuts in State aid to small communities, many of which are run quite efficiently.”

In deference to Governor Corzine’s call to reduce government spending, Senator Buono said she will pursue alternatives to “the unprecedented cuts to all municipalities and potentially devastating cuts for small municipalities.”

“I believe we need to restore balance to the burden all of us must share during these extremely painful economic times,” she said.

Senator Buono said any savings should go first to restore a $62 million cut in a municipal aid program that would result in more than $37 million in lost tax relief for municipalities with populations under 10,000.

“I’m all for shared services and avoiding duplication, but not at the price of driving people out of their homes,” Senator Buono said.

“I will also insist that there be no legislative spending priorities added at the end of the budget process,” Senator Buono said. “It’s clear that any spending for other than absolutely essential services is unwarranted.”

Before this year, legislative spending priorities, commonly known as “Christmas Tree Items,” routinely added tens of millions of dollars in annual spending to the total budget proposal offered by the Governor.

There is a deadline of June 30 for enacting a balanced spending plan for the State fiscal year beginning July 1.

“If a need develops for additional spending, it should be filtered through the normal legislative process of committee review and floor votes where its true nature can be clearly examined by the public,” Senator Buono said.

Under the Governor’s proposed spending plan, the Consolidate Municipal Property Tax Relief Act (CMPTRA) would be reduced by $62 million from its $835 million level this year. The Governor’s plan would eliminate all CMPTRA for towns with populations under 5,000 to save $22 million. Towns with populations between 5,000 and 10,000 would be proportionately reduced by $15 million, which averages out to a greater than 50 percent cut in their CMPTRA. The remaining amount received by all municipalities would be proportionately reduced by $25 million.

“Municipalities with populations between 5,000 and 10,000 would get hit twice – first, by the $15 million cut and then again, by the $25 million across-the-board cut imposed on all towns,” Senator Buono said. “That’s just intolerable.”#

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