Corzine: Looming budget cuts not a game

February 22, 2008 9:27:50 AM PST
Some state lawmakers say New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine's plans to propose massive budget cuts are a veiled attempt to try to build support for significant highway toll increases, a claim the governor denied. As part of his plan to revamp troubled state finances, Corzine plans to freeze state spending in the budget to be introduced Tuesday.

The budget is for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Corzine contends the cuts are needed no matter what happens with his toll plan.

"It's not because I'm trying to push to my plan," he said. "This is a canard that really is going nowhere."

A canard - besides being a French term for a duck - is defined as an unfounded or false, deliberately misleading story.

Corzine said the spending freeze will mean about $2.5 billion in budget cuts to offset rising costs.

Among the possibilities: Early retirements and state worker layoffs to cut the work force by 4,000, eliminating the agriculture, commerce and personnel agencies; reduced hours at parks and motor vehicle agencies; reduced funding for hospitals, municipalities, welfare grants, property tax rebates and state colleges and a Medicaid co-payment.

"I suspect there's going to be a lot of cuts that a lot of members are not going to be happy about," said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer. "I think the governor is going to present a budget that, unless there's some movement toward monetization, there will probably be wholesale cuts."

Monetization is a term Corzine has used to describe his plans to increase Atlantic City Expressway, Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike tolls to pay off at least half of $32 billion in state debt and fund transportation for 75 years.

No lawmakers have endorsed that plan, and Corzine now acknowledges it may not have any support, but he insists the looming budget cuts aren't a ploy.

Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney backed the governor.

"It's not to scare people," said Sweeney, D-Gloucester. "This is a real budget. I want to be supportive, and I think as legislators we have to be serious about these cuts. They need to be made. They're really going to be painful, but we have to recognize we can't continue going on the way that we're going."

Gusciora is among Trenton-area lawmakers worried about layoffs.

"It's important that we hear the governor out and I understand as much as anyone that the state is in dire financial straits," he said. "The governor does deserve some credit for having the fiscal maturity to come up with a plan to get us out of all this debt, but I also understand a lot of people are not going to be happy with that plan."