Corzine proposes $812M in budget cuts

January 5, 2009 6:28:05 PM PST
Aid to cities and schools is on the chopping block as Gov. Jon S. Corzine unveiled his ideas Monday for proposed cuts to help bridge the state's $2.1 billion budget gap.

A total of $812 million in spending is being pared from the current fiscal budget. The cuts affect everything from school breakfast programs and nursery inspection programs to mosquito control and equipment for state police.

"I think everybody understands that financial conditions are about as serious as any the country has experienced since the 30s," Corzine told reporters during a budget briefing on Friday.

Specifically, Corzine proposed cutting $15 million in aid to cities and towns and $75 million in K-12 public school money.

The governor also wants to freeze state workers' wages and reduce the state's payment to a pension fund. He'll make up the rest of the budget gap using surplus and rainy-day savings, while counting on aid from the feds.

Some cuts need legislative approval.

The cuts are designed to keep the state government afloat during a deepening recession.

The current round of cuts comes even after an earlier round of $600 million was sliced from the budget. And Corzine has said the state's projected deficit could grow.

Communications Workers of America's New Jersey Director Hetty Rosenstein said the unions would be unwilling to renegotiate their existing contracts.

To do so would be unfair, she said, pointing out that state workers can't conversely benefit from years where there is a budget surplus.

"If there was a great increase in revenues, we would not be able to go to the governor and say, 'We want more money,"' Rosenstein said.

Corzine said layoffs and furloughs would be necessary without concessions from the unions. He said he would save $130 million in fiscal 2010 if union workers gave up the 3 percent raise due them in July. State workers are in the second year of a four-year contract.

State Republican leaders who sued Corzine over claims he has not been as forthcoming as the law requires about state financial details renewed their call for fiscal restraint.

On Monday, Republicans circulated a press release they first handed out on Sept. 20, 2007, urging Corzine to follow the lead of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and begin paring the budget in anticipation of a severe revenue collection fall off. The stock market had already begun to tank as the national mortgage foreclosure crisis took hold.

Republicans also criticized Corzine's decision to delay introducing the fiscal 2010 budget until March 10.

However, the governor defended his decision Friday.

"I want to know in law what the federal stimulus package is, as opposed to speculating about it," he said.

Corzine hopes President-elect Barack Obama's package will include at least $300 million in Medicaid aid for New Jersey.

The 12-page list of cuts released Monday includes reductions small and large: $11,000 less for adolescent literacy; $500,000 less for the Attorney General's Office and the Division on Civil Rights, and $4 million less for maintenance on Turnpike and Parkway feeder roads.

The departments were not cut evenly, as they were in August when each Cabinet member was instructed to cut their budget by 5 percent, Treasurer David Rousseau said. Rather, the budget was examined line by line, then trimmed, with special effort made to keep education, public safety and social services as intact as possible, he said.