Girgenti Statements On Governor’s Vetoes To Transitional, Public Safety Aid

Senator John A Girgenti (D-Bergen and Passaic)

Senator John Girgenti made the following remarks on the Senate floor today in support of efforts to override the governor’s vetoes to $50 million for cities struggling with increased crime due to layoffs of public safety personnel (SCR-218) and $139 million for municipal transitional aid (SCR-219).

STATEMENT ON SCR-218

“The most important responsibility that any government has, whether it is federal, state, or local, is to ensure the well-being and safety of its citizens.

In February the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee, of which I am

Chairman, held a hearing on the increase in homicides in the state, and the reasons for why this increase is occurring.

363 homicides were reported in New Jersey in 2010. This is a 13% increase statewide from 2009 and a majority of the state’s counties have reported a rise in homicides. Our residents and our children are at risk in not just urban areas, but

in all corners of New Jersey.

The Star-Ledger reported in January on the increase in the murder rate, noting that

they have gone up 13% in 2010. In the urban areas such as Paterson, Camden,

and Newark, gang activities have increased and thus have played a big role in the increase in murders and crime.

Gangs are spreading throughout our cities, and are infiltrating suburban areas as well. The Union County prosecutor said the “reality is that they are growing and fast becoming the main supplier of drugs and guns throughout the state. They are the ones primarily doing the shootings.”

In Paterson, the largest city in my District, the 35th district, shooting deaths have risen by 38%. This is largely driven by the increasing prevalence of guns on the streets and gang activities, according to the Mayor Jeffrey Jones’ office. But in order to fight the increase in crime and the proliferation of gang involvement, the municipalities in this State need an adequate number of law enforcement officers.

What I have just told this chamber is the backdrop of public safety in New Jersey and the challenges we face. This backdrop illustrates we need Municipal Safety Aid, and why it is so critical that this is funded. The Governor’s budget last year cut state aid to municipalities drastically and, as a result, public safety funding was slashed at a time when we need it the most, and this year is no different, since the Governor has line item vetoed all $50 million that was designated for Municipal Safety Aid.

As a result, more police officers and law enforcement officers will be laid off. This is already happening at an unprecedented rate. Newark, for example, was forced to lay off nearly 15% of its police force and has experienced a jump of 5% in the homicide rate. Unfortunately, what has happened in Newark is not an isolated incident. In Paterson, they have had to layoff 125 law enforcement officers, a condition that the Governor required in order for the City to receive its transitional aid. These 125 officers represented nearly one-third of Paterson’s total police force. Paterson has faced struggles with keeping crime down for many years, but removing so many officers from the streets leads to a disastrous drop in public safety.

Reducing domestic threats to our safety such as guns and gangs on our streets should be a top priority for our governor and our elected officials, and eliminating them should be our goal. Cutting public safety assistance to towns under the conditions in New Jersey today is not only irresponsible, but a reckless decision on the part of the Governor. To not override this line item veto would be an abdication by this Senate of its responsibility to do everything in its power to ensure safety of all of our constituents. By allowing Municipal Safety Aid to disappear, we would be foolishly and irresponsibly placing our citizens in harm’s way in an already volatile environment. This, we cannot and must not allow, and I urge all Senators to vote in favor of overriding this short-sighted, dangerous, and reckless line item veto.”

STATEMENT ON SCR-219

“The Governor’s budget line item vetoes seem to be directly aimed at low-income citizens and struggling municipalities. This is painfully clear when looking at the veto of Transitional Aid to Localities.

Originally, the Governor had proposed to include $149 million of aid in the budget. He then completely slashed this aid to $10 million without warrant. Where lies the sense in this? Through this cut, he will essentially destroy Transitional Aid this upcoming year to some of our municipalities who desperately need financial assistance.

There are three aspects about Transitional Aid that should be made clear. First, this aid is to localities that are on the brink of financial disaster and require state aid in order to meet its fiscal obligations and stay solvent. Second, transitional aid is the only discretionary financial assistance program for these localities. Third, the Governor slashed this program due to his perception that the Legislature, in their proposed budget, took away his funding to oversee the program. This, as we know, is not true, yet he has decided to punish struggling localities by decimating the assistance that they rely on. As a result, many of the great cities in our State will needlessly suffer from this unwarranted and cruel budget cut.

In my district, the City of Paterson received $22 million last year in Transitional Aid. This was accompanied by increases in property taxes, a thinning of City services, and budgetary cuts. Paterson was already attempting to lower its costs. And without this aid, they will lose 7 percent of their total revenues. This, in turn, will mean more financial distress for the city, more layoffs, and possibly higher property taxes.

The Governor, in his zeal to reduce State obligations, is merely shifting the financial burden onto localities, throwing them back to square one. He is putting a noose around the neck of Paterson, and around the necks of all the municipalities who rely on Transitional Aid.

The Governor speaks about often about shared sacrifice. I ask you this: Where is the shared sacrifice, when a city like Paterson – which was already making major financial sacrifices when its citizens are suffering and need the services that the City provides – is forced to lose over $20 million of assistance?

For Paterson, the sacrifice isn’t shared. The greatest burden of sacrifice is being forced onto the city, by a Governor whose veto of transitional aid sends an unconscionable message to the citizens of Paterson: ‘I don’t care. You are on your own.’

I urge all of the Senators, in this room today, to vote to override this budget cut. Vote to help our distressed municipalities and the citizens who need help the most. Vote against the Governor’s message that our cities are on their own.”