Senate Budget And Appropriations Committee Holds First Public Hearing On FY 2011 State Budget

PARAMUS – Today at Bergen County Community College in Paramus, the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee held the first public hearing on the FY 2011 Budget, allowing New Jerseyans who will feel the impact of budget cuts to voice their concerns.

Committee members issued the following statements after listening to testimony from today’s hearing:

“Today, we’ve heard from local officials, health care advocates, education advocates, advocates for individuals living with disabilities and so many others about the severe impact of the Governor’s proposed FY 2011 budget,” said Senator Paul A. Sarlo, D-Bergen, Essex and Passaic, and Chairman of the Budget Committee. “One thing was made plainly clear through the hours of public testimony we heard today – the cuts that the Governor put on the table to balance the budget will mean drastic cuts to services that people depend on.

“Today’s hearing was just the start of the process. My committee members and I recognize the challenges in balancing a budget during the current national economic crisis, but we also recognize that conceptual budget cuts have a real-world impact on New Jersey’s hardest hit residents. In the months ahead, we will work to refine the proposed budget, and look for ways to restore cuts to services that affect the State’s most vulnerable citizens.”

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“Governor Christie has a constitutional mandate to provide a balanced budget, but he also has a moral responsibility to provide a fair budget,” said Senator Brian P. Stack, D-Union, and Vice Chair of the Budget Committee. “While the Governor’s proposed budget is certainly balanced, today’s testimony calls into question its fairness. The effects of his lean FY 2011 budget will be felt sharply by local officials doing the right thing to keep property taxes down, service providers for people living with mental illness or developmental disabilities, and educators looking to provide a balanced education with less and less support from the State of New Jersey.

“As State lawmakers, we’re going to have to make some tough decisions to balance the budget. But we also need to be fair to those people who have no where else to turn for support.”

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“During difficult economic times, the State budget has to reflect a measure of shared sacrifice as we begin to put New Jersey on strong fiscal footing moving forward,” said Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex. “While I recognize that this is going to be a lean budget, we have to stand by our core values and priorities.

“Today’s testimony was powerful and persuasive, and should serve as a testament to the value of the programs being discussed in the budget process. Over the next months of legislative budget hearings, we will examine every cut in programs that people depend on, and will work to produce a fair spending plan for the people of New Jersey that balances the budgetary pain evenly and preserves the programs people depend on most.”

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“During budget public hearings, we get to put a face to the funding,” said Senator Sandra Bolden Cunningham, D-Hudson. “It’s invaluable to policy makers to understand how cuts in funding will affect real people within our communities and within our State.

“We’re facing some very difficult choices during the FY 2011 Budget process, but at the end of the day, we will do whatever we can to preserve the programs which matter most to New Jersey’s residents. I look forward to engaging the public in the discussion, and working with my fellow lawmakers and the Governor and his administration to produce a budget document which is fair and honest with the taxpaying public.”

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“As Chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee and a second-term member of the Budget Committee, I am particularly interested in maintaining a quality education for all of our State’s residents,” said Senator Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex and Union. “We heard today from school officials representing diverse communities across the State that the Governor’s budget cuts will have a global impact, and could ultimately result in reduced education dollars for our classrooms.

“While I agree that all options need to be on the table in terms of creating an efficient, cost-effective education program from pre-K onward, we have a responsibility to provide a quality education at the lowest cost to the taxpayers of New Jersey. However, at the end of the day, any cuts that affect the quality of classroom instruction should be reversed. We need to do all we can to allow public school students to achieve their maximum potential and to become productive contributors to our State’s future.”

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“The Governor’s proposed cuts to services and State aid jeopardize New Jersey’s ability to protect the most vulnerable residents and continue to maintain the everyday responsibilities of government in the Garden State,” said Senator Jim Beach, D-Camden. “Whether it’s providing a small measure of property tax relief to taxpayers who need it, funding public education, or maintaining the safety net for individuals living with disabilities, we cannot ignore the real-world impact of the Governor’s FY 2011 budget cuts.

“These cuts are a direct result of the Governor’s unwillingness to reinstate a millionaire’s tax, instead focusing cuts on those who can least afford them in order to give the rich a tax break.

“The folks who came out today helped demonstrate just what the proposed cuts will mean to the people of New Jersey. I look forward to Thursday’s hearing in Camden, so we can engage South Jersey residents in the public budget discussion, and get to work reviewing and revising the FY 2011 Budget.”

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“We recognize the difficulties that the Governor faces in crafting a recession-year State Budget,” said Senator Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May and Cumberland. “However, even in the darkest economic times, we have to continue to support local communities’ efforts to reduce the property tax burden on New Jersey residents, and we have to maintain support for programs that make a difference in the lives of our local residents.

“I will continue to work with my fellow lawmakers on the Budget Committee to help craft a budget which is honest about our State’s priorities, and which does not balance the budget on the backs of our hardest-hit citizens. We need a State budget which is fair to the people, and does not pit communities and regions against each other in the scramble for limited State aid. This is going to be a difficult process, but the people of the State benefit from a thorough and complete vetting of the Governor’s budget proposal before the June 30 deadline for a balanced spending plan.”

The next public budget hearing will be held at 9:00 AM on Thursday, March 25 at the Law Bridge at Rutgers-Camden School of Law in Camden, NJ.