NJ Senate fails to undo Gov. Christie budget cuts

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - July 12, 2011

Democrats needed three Republicans to join with all 24 of their members to overrule Christie's vetoes of funding for financially strapped communities, college tuition assistance and more than a dozen other programs. Vote after vote came down along party lines until Democrats finally called it quits.

The day before, votes to undo cuts to child abuse services, women's health clinics, legal aid and other safety-net programs also all fell short.

The most contentious cut addressed Tuesday was a $139 million allotment for struggling New Jersey cities and towns that Christie reduced before signing the Democrats' budget. In a move that shocked Democrats, Christie eliminated all but $10 million from the program to help communities facing foreclosures, withering real estate prices and low tax revenues.

Democrats said the cuts would force urban areas that rely heavily on the money to lay off police officers and other public workers.

"They basically just voted to put people to death in urban areas," Senate President Stephen Sweeney said after the vote.

Sweeney and Democratic lawmakers say the governor gutted their budget to punish his political foes, at the expense of the state's most vulnerable residents. Christie shaved $1.3 billion in spending off the Democrats' budget, shrinking it to $29.7 billion before signing it into law.

Although Christie had earmarked almost $150 million for aid to communities in his original budget proposal, he vetoed almost all of it after Democrats delivered him a budget that spent more than the revenues Christie said the state would take in.

"The Democratic Majority put politics first and people second" by dropping their own plumper budget on Christie just days before the end of the fiscal year, Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean Jr. said.

All 13 override votes Tuesday failed 24-13, with two Republicans absent and one abstaining. Sweeney put the Senate under call, meaning that any non-votes are counted as a `no.'

Before votes were tallied, Republican Sen. Diane Allen of Burlington County sat expressionless as Sweeney gave her one last opportunity to cast a vote.

"There are a lot or excellent programs that were cut," Allen said. "As it stands today, it's very sad that we're in a position where we don't have the money."

Democratic Sen. Donald Norcross of Camden said the survival of his city was literally at stake. Almost 40 percent of Camden's draft budget is made up of funds from the program.

"What do you do when you lay off half your cops? Do you say, `I'm sorry,"' Norcross said.

It's unclear whether Democrats will be able to salvage any of the aid to communities. The Legislature could pass a supplemental spending bill during the year, but Republicans are unlikely to go along unless the state collects more revenue than Christie has predicted.

Democrats may also try to overcome Christie's veto of a tax on the state's wealthiest citizens that would bring in more revenues, but the measure would have to originate in the Assembly.


Reach Josh Lederman at http://www.twitter.com/joshledermanAP.

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