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Norcross/Stack/Ruiz: GOP Vote On Transitional Aid, Public Safety Funds Will Devastate New Jersey’s Cities

A view of the Senate Chambers from the 2010-2011 Senate Reorganization.

TRENTON – Senators Donald Norcross, Brian P. Stack and M. Teresa Ruiz today said the refusal of Republicans to restore critical funding for municipalities that are facing extraordinary budget circumstances will devastate New Jersey’s cities.

Republicans failed to support the restoration of $149 million in Transitional Aid in the FY2012 budget. The funding is the state’s only discretionary financial assistance program, and is only available to municipalities anticipating difficulties making payments toward nondiscretionary or critical obligations including debt service, contractual obligations and public safety payroll. The GOP also voted against restoring $50 million in public safety aid to 150 municipalities across the state.

“Our cities are already reeling from a down economy. Public safety has been decimated, workforces have been slashed and services cut to the bone,” said Senator Norcross (D-Camden/Gloucester). “The bottom line is, our cities have run out of places to cut back and in many urban centers a robust tax base just doesn’t exist. Without a reversal of these devastating cuts, cities across our state will be in jeopardy of total economic collapse.”

The Transitional Aid program was developed last year to replace three former programs that provided funding to cities facing extraordinary circumstances: Special Municipal Aid, Extraordinary Aid and Trenton Capitol City Aid. In FY 2011, 22 municipalities shared in a total of $157 million – approximately $60 million less than the amount awarded under the three eliminated programs in FY 2010.

This February, the governor proposed cutting the program further, to $149 million. Despite that fact that the Democratic budget did not make any changes to the appropriation, up or down, the governor reduced the appropriation by line-item veto to only $10 million in the FY 2012 spending plan. To put this in perspective, last year Camden alone received $69 million in funding, simply to maintain a balanced budget. This aid award – which amounted to 38 percent of the city’s budget – was made at the same time the city was forced to lay off 169 police officers, half of the force. Union City received $13 million last year, which amounted to 13 percent of its overall budget.

“The new program announced last year was meant to transition cities away from relying on additional state aid. But instead of providing for a transition, this budget seeks to pull the rug entirely out from under them,” said Senator Stack (D-Hudson). “This cut will devastate our cities, and will punish our most vulnerable residents who will be forced to endure the brunt of service cuts and the impact of increases in crime. This is unacceptable. It is our responsibility to protect all of the residents of this state, regardless of their zip code or where they fall on the socioeconomic scale. To turn our backs on the poor, the elderly and those who need help most, in one of the worst economic environments we’ve seen in years, is absolutely shameful.”

Yesterday, Moody’s Weekly Credit Outlook noted the Governor’s $139 million cut to Transitional Aid is “credit negative for the affected cities.” Moody’s noted that the cities, which include Trenton, Camden and Paterson, “have reduced flexibility to manage the proposed cuts, given the property tax revenue limitation, weak tax base, low wealth indicators, and a sluggish economy, as well as the fact that many of them have imposed tax increases and budget cuts in prior years.”

The effort to override the Transitional Aid cuts, through a resolution (SCR-219) sponsored by Norcross and Stack, failed by a party-line vote of 24-13.

Republicans also voted against restoring $50 million in critical municipal aid for public safety. The funding was included in the Democratic budget after municipalities across the state had been forced to layoff hundreds of police and fire personnel in the last year. The effort to override the cut, through a resolution sponsored by Senators Ruiz and Norcross (SCR-218) failed by a party-line vote of 24-13.

“Our cities are facing a public safety crisis. In the last 24 hours, the City of Newark experienced a horrific night of violence. Twelve people were the victims of shootings, some which occurred in separate incidents across the city. A 15-year-old child was left dead,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex/Union). “This is not only occurring in Newark. It is happening in Paterson, in Elizabeth and in Camden. We have to stop the bloodshed on our streets. We must find a way to rebuild our cities’ law enforcement ranks, which have been decimated by budget cuts. Providing additional funding for public safety should not be an option. It is an absolute necessity. If the vote for this restoration had passed, it would have enabled our police department to bring back laid off law enforcement officers and to re-establish many of the critical programs and units that were reduced or eliminated due to funding constraints.”

“Last year, the City of Camden was forced to lay off half of its police force. The department has already announced that law enforcement will not focus its efforts on responding to reports of burglary and petty theft so that it can focus its limited resources on violent crime. A third of the firefighters are gone, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to respond to fires, five of which have occurred in recent weeks,” said Senator Norcross. “This scenario is playing out in cities across our state. And, now, our colleagues across the aisle are asking that they cut further into their budgets and place the safety of their residents – and their police and fire personnel – at risk. It is an impossible request, and the fact that it is directed at our most vulnerable populations is a disgrace.”