Remarks Of Senator Barbara Buono On Commencement Of FY09 Budget Hearings

TRENTON – Senator Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex and Chair of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, delivered the attached remarks during today’s hearing on the Governor’s proposed FY09 State Budget.

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Remarks as Prepared of Senator Barbara Buono

March 26, 2008

Good afternoon. Welcome to the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee. I would especially like to welcome our new Senators, who will be going through the budget review process for the first time. I have been impressed with the intelligence and commitment of all the Senators, both Democrat and Republican, and am proud to be the chair of such an impressive committee.

Exactly one month ago today, we heard from Governor Corzine in his Budget Address. Since then, we’ve heard from members of the public and from various groups who depend on State support at public hearings in New Brunswick, Trenton and Deptford. This morning we heard from the Office of Legislative Services and we will soon hear from Acting Treasurer Rousseau.

The inescapable truth reflecting the reality of our economic times most accurately is that – despite the never-ending pressures to provide services to our citizens – we have to live within our means and curtail spending. The Governor has interpreted this principle as the need to match ongoing spending with recurring revenues.

Governor Corzine’s proposed thirty two point nine billion dollar spending plan ($32.9 billion) points us in the right direction. Its proposed actual spending reductions of ($1.7 billion) one-point-seven-billion dollars would be significant, painful and remarkable.

A State budget has to reflect the times in which we live. And these times are challenging. The morning newspapers provide a nagging reminder of an impending recession. Every day we hear of another example of the collateral damage from the sub-prime market scandals– the credit crisis, foreclosures and turmoil in the financial markets “increases our fears that the recession could be a severe one. Just last week Bear Stearns one of the nation’s bedrock financial investment companies fell victim to the credit crisis. And no one has to remind us of the impact of rising oil prices and the decreasing value of the dollar.

But the final State budget will also reflect the priorities we establish as members of the Legislature as well as our responses to the fiscal crises of our times. I am proud that both the Senate and the Assembly have worked together over the last few years to make the budget process more transparent. I applaud the Taxpayers’ Guide to the Budget which now spells out exactly who authors the changes made to the Governor’s proposal and exactly how much money is involved.

I would like to commend Senator Lance for his successful advocacy for the principle that the war against State debt is a just and necessary war that must be waged by Democrats and Republicans alike to free us from the self-imposed paralysis which threatens to stop government in its tracks. I also commend Senator Lesniak for joining Senator Lance in advancing Senate Concurrent Resolution 39 to require voter approval before State-backed debt can be created.

As we hear from commissioners over the next several weeks, I would like to make it clear that we will be looking closely at department spending, recognizing that the Governor has already proposed significant spending cuts in every department budget. In fact, I should note that for the first time in 35 years, the Governor’s proposed budget would cut the spending of every State department. I must commend the Governor for this monumental effort.

In a departure from the sometimes frenzied budget negotiations of the past, this budget process will be starkly different. The legislature will deliver a balanced budget by the July 1st deadline, but over the next several months we will also be examining some of the big picture issues, such as how hundreds of millions of dollars worth of state contracts for goods and services are awarded and monitored. A procurement process (which governs the awarding of contracts) should be designed to provide checks and balances insuring that scarce public dollars are being spent wisely. There has to be accountability from the top. In addition, we will be revisiting some of the recommendations made by the legislature’s special session and

cast aside.

Overall, the Governor proposes significant cuts in municipal aid, especially to small communities who understandably feel threatened. It is our responsibility to ensure that the State is aggressively exploring and implementing ways to assist towns in finding efficiencies. In the process, there needs to be a recognition that in some circumstances consolidation of towns or services does not in fact result in lower costs.

Much has been said about this budget being a turning point. I cannot over-state my agreement with this characterization. We must make a commitment to support actual spending with recurring revenues. The Governor is right: this budget is an opportunity to take a painful but meaningful step toward ending the structural deficit that is preventing us from tackling the fundamental issues that confront the State.

Despite the bitter medicine, I am optimistic about the future of New Jersey. We are well-diversified and well-positioned to weather the economic storm. But we need an economic strategy to help steer us through the difficult days ahead. In one week from today, we will be hearing from experts in this area.

On this day, however, I am proud to begin hearings on a proposed budget that is turning the fiscal management of the State toward responsibility, accountability and transparency. I look forward to collaborating with all the members of this committee as we put this budget together in the coming months, and I am grateful for the input from Democrats and Republicans alike.