As the press releases containing official responses to Gov. Jon Corzine’s last budget address before his reelection rolled in this afternoon, two themes stuck out along starkly partisan lines.
Assembly Democrats repeatedly called it a “prudent,” “tough” and generally fiscally responsible way to “position” the state for an eventual national economic recovery, which they’ve long contended is responsible for the state’s fiscal straits.
Assembly Republicans disparaged the Governor’s talk of drastic measures as the culmination of three years of not doing enough to curtail state government expenses, compounded by the fiscal practices of seven years of Democratic domination in Trenton and his own broken campaign promises.
Democrats repeatedly argued that the neediest New Jersey residents would have to sacrifice the least under the proposed measures, while Republicans argued that the middle class would suffer the brunt of them.
The arguments, already test run several times over the last month, will likely be frequently repeated as the 2009 gubernatorial race heats up.
Assemblyman Louis Greenwald (D-Voorhees), who chairs the budget committee, reminded constituents that New Jersey is not alone in its gloomy budget outlook and, indeed, is better off than some other states. He referred to last year’s budget as “the largest spending cut in state history,” adding that the budget forecast would be worse today had legislators not already enacted a significantly scaled back budget.
“Everyone must ask questions that reach deeper than specific line-items. We must use this budget process to not simply allow the state to lurch its way through this crisis, but to reinvent state government in a way that will benefit the state for years to come,” he said.
Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) echoed those sentiments, adding that the poorest residents of state would be spared the most sacrifice.
“This proposal safeguards programs for our neediest residents – senior citizens and the disabled, children and working families barely getting by,” he said.
Budget Committee Republicans universally panned Corzine’s proposals for cuts in aid to schools and municipalities, while they criticized increasing payroll taxes to bolster the unemployment insurance fund and the diminishing of property tax rebates.
“Once again the governor has failed to offer fundamental reforms to the structure of state government,” said Assemblyman Joseph Malone (R-Bordentown). “Until this issue is addressed we will continue to be faced with the same problems and hear the same old gibberish that pretends to solve them.”
Assemblywoman Allison Little McHose (R-Franklin) repeated a sentiment aired by former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, the frontrunner for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, two weeks ago – that the state’s economic crisis cannot be pinned on the Bush Administration.
“Despite what the Governor would like us to believe, New Jersey did not get into this fiscal mess overnight,” she said. “This state’s economic meltdown and its chronic budget woes have been festering for seven years.”
Assemblyman Richard Merkt (R-Mendham) – the only member of the legislature who’s running for governor – offered a longer, more nuanced statement.
Merkt said that the fact that the Governor did trim state spending by $3 billion proves that he was disingenuous when he said it would not be possible to during the previous three years.
“Now the truth is out,” he said. “The spending plan Governor Corzine laid out today proves Republicans were right. The previous three budgets could have and should have been massively pared down. Instead, this governor now bears personal responsibility for having wasted $12 billion in taxpayer money.