Corzine defends early retirement offers

May 22, 2008 6:46:58 PM PDT
New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine on Thursday defended plans to offer retirement incentives to 3,000 state workers. "That's the most important step that we're taking in the context of reducing the size of government," Corzine said on a public television program.

Corzine proposed saving $135 million by cutting 3,000 jobs, but legislators have questioned the idea because it would increase taxpayer-funded retirement benefits.

But Corzine said the plan isn't an early retirement package.

"We're only going to give it to people who are already ready for retirement," he said.

Corzine's $32.8 billion budget plan calls for $2.9 billion in cuts.

He noted the state has been increasing spending about 7 percent annually, though revenues have only increased about 3 percent annually.

"The basic principle is we can't spend more than we take in," Corzine said.

When asked whether he supports a plan by Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, to mandate that all children have health insurance, Corzine said, "If we identify what we're going to cut to allow ourselves to pay for that, I will sign it."

Vitale estimates the plan would cost $28.8 million in the first year.

Corzine said he doesn't relish moves such as cutting funding for the arts, which he acknowledged "make a big difference in the quality of life."

"It's not something I want to do," Corzine said. "It's something we have to if we're going to live within our means."

He said he understood frustration with the cuts.

"Everybody has things that they are most concerned about in their lives," Corzine said. "The problem is we spent way ahead of our ability to actually pay for the things we were doing."

Sens. Jeff Van Drew and Jim Whelan, meanwhile, released a statement saying they "welcomed news" that Corzine won't require municipalities that get free state police patrols to start paying for the patrols during 2008.

Corzine had proposed requiring those towns to pay some of the patrol cost to raise $20.5 million as of July 1.

"We certainly need to look at the way the state police provides protection to small towns statewide and who pays for it, but that is a conversation that needs to happen over the course of time so that these towns can properly prepare for the change," Van Drew said.

Corzine administration officials didn't respond to a request for comment on Van Drew and Whelan's statement.