Corzine proposes $500 M in cuts to state budget


Gov. Jon S. Corzine announced plans to cut $500 million from the New Jersey state budget by eliminating thousands of government jobs and cutting inflationary costs.

"Frankly, New Jersey has a government its people cannot afford," Corzine said yesterday in his annual budget address. "This budget declares the time of living beyond our means is over."

With this budget, Corzine said the state would eliminate at least 5,000 government jobs through lay-offs, consolidation and an early retirement program. He said the state would also eliminate three Cabinet departments: the Agriculture Department, the Personnel Department and the Commerce Commission.

Corzine said there is a total of over $350 million in savings attributable to a smaller state government.

"In this budget, government takes the spending hit, not our hard-pressed taxpayers or the most vulnerable," he said.

Corzine said the budget contains no new taxes and increases property tax relief.

But U.S. Senate Republican candidate Murray Sabrin, a Ramapo College professor, said the governor should do more.

"Gov. Corzine should propose tax cuts and more spending cuts so that the free enterprise system can flourish once again in the state of New Jersey," Sabrin said in a statement.

Though they have not received the actual budget yet, Sen. Joe Pennacchio said he thinks the governor has started to realize the effects of his past borrowing and spending.

Pennacchio said Corzine's proposed budget is still the same size as Pennsylvania's, which currently has about four million more people, as well as more land than New Jersey.

"People are moving to Pennsylvania, not New Jersey," he said.

Corzine said the limited spending would require hard choices about which services are most critical and will inevitably mean reducing spending.

He said higher education and health care would see the smallest reductions due to concerns on the level of potential tuition hikes and the need to maintain access to health care for low-income and elderly individuals.

"I can tell you, I'm pained by the stress and anguish brought to our people's lives by the cuts proposed," Corzine said.

He said the budget includes reductions in base-budget aid and grant programs, which make up 75 percent of state spending. This includes cutting a total of $1.4 billion from property tax rebates, municipal aid, higher education, hospital assistance and Medicaid.

He said 90 percent of homeowners who received a rebate last year will receive one this year unless they earn more than $150,000 a year.

"Regrettably, taxpayers live in a world where commitments and failures of the past crowd out the resources for services our people deserve today," Corzine said.

But Corzine said failing to take make the cuts would force the state into deeper fiscal problems and put more financial burdens on taxpayers.

"For me, that outcome is unacceptable," Corzine said. "For our public, it is unacceptable."

Corzine said the proposed budget represents a long overdue turning point toward spending restraints and cuts, which genuinely address the financial emergency.

"I have heard firsthand the public's frustration and anger generated by too many years of overspending, borrowing and false rhetoric," Corzine said. "And they're right. Whether they agree with my financial restructuring plan or not, the public is 100 percent right to be angry about the State of New Jersey's fiscal affairs."

He said New Jersey residents' concerns are elevated by the state's high cost of living and the national economic recession.

He said the proposed budget is honestly balanced, sensitive to core responsibilities and would cut $500 million from the $33.5 billion budget he signed last year.

"This is 'cold turkey' therapy for our troubled spending addiction," Corzine said.

But spending cuts are only the first step the state will take to restore the financial stability, he said, and it put us in a position to be a sustainable partner in the success of our people.

He said the state must stop borrowing and work to pay off the debt.

"It's clear debt service payments crowd out important priorities every year," Corzine said. "We should be cutting debt service, not closing parks or raising co-pays."

He said the state could not afford to make investments in the areas of transportation, alternative energy, mental health facilities, schools and medical research because of the debt.

"It is not enough to just reject the toll proposal," Corzine said. "If you don't like that alternative, give me another viable approach to significantly reduce debt and fund important, vital transportation improvements."


Michelle Cerone

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