Budget Hawks Stay Clear of Hearing

 

Where were the fiscal conservatives?

The next state budget projects to spend almost $49 billion, a healthy increase from current spending, and today was another chance for the public to sound off about it.

One may think this would have generated a series of speakers condemning “record spending in an unaffordable state people are fleeing.”

Not so.

Most of the speakers at a hearing before the Assembly Budget Committee took quite a different tone.

They supported the budget and/or asked for more money.

One supposes a surplus exceeding $4 billion has a way of doing that.

In fairness, most of the speakers did so on behalf of meaningful organizations.

There were pleas to further support education in any number of ways:

Universities need funds to avoid layoffs; parochial schools need more money for busing, public schools need assistance to help students cope with such things as the pandemic and beyond that, schools built more than 100 years ago need to be replaced.

No one can forget about health care and how COVID overtaxed services and personnel.

Representatives of myriad health care organizations talked about the need to build a new University Hospital in Newark and more funding for overall mental health needs and for such individual services as Cheshire Home in Florham Park, which helps young adults with spinal cord injuries and neurological impairments gain independence.

Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin, the committee chair, said lawmakers understand the sacrifice undertaken by health care workers over the last two years.

There were also pleas for more money to support mass transit, affordable housing, trail systems and even independent journalism.

A “sobering increase” in bias crimes also got attention from speakers who asked for more money for enforcement and security.

Pintor Marin refrained from extensive comments on individual presentations, although she did compliment the maturity of a high school student from Mountain Lakes who spoke about money needed for electric-powered school buses.

“You gave us a lot to digest,” she said after about six hours of hearings.

One of the few speakers who deviated from the norm asked the committee – and by extension the Legislature – not to forget about a proposal to end the state ban on self-service gas.

Good luck with that. Polls indicate strong support for the status quo and the latest news is that the lawmakers are not going to consider a change.

There was also a plea to stop a $4.7 billion proposal to widen and improve an 8-mile section of the Jersey Turnpike through Jersey City and Bayonne. That plan, the critic said, would be both an environmental disaster and injurious to Jersey City.

There will be another hearing on the budget in early April. And unlike this one, which was virtual, that hearing will be in person.

Pintor Marin said she was looking forward to seeing her colleagues face to face.

It’s true that adoption of the budget without major changes seems like a done deal. This budget no longer has the controversy we saw early in Phil Murphy’s tenure about a so-called millionaire’s tax.

Yet, at the same time, it’s surprising that some of the groups and individuals who talk constantly about New Jersey’s financial woes didn’t have much of a presence at today’s hearing. Maybe next time.

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