PARAMUS – With a handful of hurting cities awaiting $139 million in Transitional Aid from the state to plug large budget gaps, Gov. Chris Christie said he waits for his counterparts in the Democratic legislative majority.
The Democrats nixed a small portion of the aid that was dedicated to oversight in the summer budget battle and – procedurally not able to restore the oversight funding himself – Christie responded by removing the aid altogether with a promise to pass it once the oversight was restored. “I would never have line-itemed the thing out if they had left the 1.5 million (for oversight) in,” he said today.
As the aid sits on the table, the Democratic majorities have given little insight into their decision-making process on the restoration.
“They don’t say why they’re not doing it,” he said. “What we’re talking about here is aid to urban areas that don’t traditionally vote Republican…You would think they’d be setting off champagne corks down the hall.”
Initially, sources said the Democrats would tie-bar the restoration to other funding streams that Christie nixed in his line-item vetoes. Today, Christie reiterated his commitment to restore the aid, but only the aid.
If the lawmakers tie any other funding to it, he said he’ll veto it again. “I’m not signing it…It’s up to them,” he said. “If they do it, they do it at the peril of these cities going belly up.”
State Sen. Kevin O’Toole, (R-40), of Cedar Grove, already submitted the bill to restore the aid and oversight. “Republicans support my bill even though only areas represented by Democrats will receive the aid,” he said.
In July, the Democratic majority voted for the restoration in a veto-override. “Less than three months ago every Democratic senator voted to restore the aid,” O’Toole said. “It is baffling that the Senate Democrats will not move this important aid package for New Jersey’s most-distressed cities forward. It is important that this aid package is passed in order for the cities to meet payroll and retain public safety employees.”
League of Municipalities Executive Director Bill Dressel said last week that cities need this aid sooner rather than later. “Whatever political accommodations they can come up with,” Dressel said, the lawmakers need to restore the aid. “Anything you can get 41, 21, and one on,” he said, in reference to the votes needed to constitute a majority.
Asked about a potential state takeover over the struggling city of Trenton, one of the aid-receiving cities, Christie said he’s not considering it, but his staff is working closely with city officials.
“I’ve got enough to deal with,” he said. “I’m not going to consider a takeover of the capital city.”
Trenton’s due to receive $22 million, he said. But, “The Legislature’s got to appropriate it,” he said. “If they don’t appropriate it, there’s nothing (the administration) can do about it.”
Joking on the White House-visiting embattled Trenton mayor, Tony Mack, Christie said, “Instead of writing (President) Barack Obama, I suggest (Trenton officials) should write (the Democratic legislative leaders).”
“You could say the same kind of things about Camden,” he said of a city set to take in three-times as much in aid, $66 million.
“The Legislature’s irresponsibility on this is really, really a bit mystifying,” Christie said. “Literally, they could do this in an hour…This is what happens when they go off and play games with the budget.”