Corzine vows to fix N.J. budget woes

May 12, 2008 10:37:37 AM PDT
New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine on Monday said he's "bound and determined" to right troubled state finances as New Jersey hospitals rallied outside the Statehouse against his plan to cut state hospital aid by 14 percent. The protesters waved signs reading "Some Cuts Never Heal" and "Imagine a Day Without Us," while many wore surgical masks that read, "These cuts make me sick." They predicted shuttered hospitals, unemployed workers, eliminated services, longer drives and longer waits.

Mary Ann Marra works for Columbus Hospital in Newark, which is slated to close, and the Clifton nurse fears more closures.

"You worry about your patients," Marra said. "You worry about what will happen to them if they lose access to health care. You worry about your job security and that of your colleagues."

The cut is part of $2.7 billion in cuts sought by Corzine in his $33 billion budget proposal that aims to fix state finances plagued by chronic deficits and high debt and taxes.

More budget cuts seem likely. Legislators expect spring state tax collections to fall about $200 million short of what was predicted.

Corzine refused to address the potential shortfall on Monday, but the Democratic governor said, "This is already a tough budget.

It's already an enormous challenge, as I hear repeatedly in the streets outside the Statehouse."

The former Goldman Sachs chairman reiterated his goal of not spending more money than the state collects in taxes and other revenues. He said New Jersey has failed to do that for years, building itself into a financial crisis.

"I'm bound and determined to get it back on track," Corzine said.

Corzine has also proposed cutting state funding for property tax rebates, state colleges, municipalities and nursing homes. He's indicated he will find alternative to his plans to close state parks and eliminate the agriculture department.

Treasurer David Rousseau is to update a Senate panel Tuesday on the budget.

Much of the hospital cut would come from money given by the state to help treat New Jersey's 1.5 million uninsured residents.

Since 1992, 22 hospitals have closed in New Jersey, including six in the last 18 months. Of the 76 remaining hospitals, half reported losing money.