By STEVE ADUBATO, PHD “The choices we make in budgets are reflections of our values. By cutting everything from financial aid to college students to health care for seniors, President Bush has released a budget utterly inconsistent with the values of New Jerseyans.” So says newly appointed U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ). His Senate colleague from New Jersey Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) took it a step further when he said; “President Bush„s budget is a bad budget for the people of New Jersey. It is an assault on the needs of our seniors and our children. The president talks about compassion and then turns around and proposes huge cuts to Medicare. The president talks about leaving no child behind, and then cuts education by more than $2 billion. The President„s priorities are very different from those of us who live in New Jersey.” So there you have it. According to New Jersey„s two U.S. Senators, President Bush couldn„t care less about the Garden State and those of us who choose to live here. However, budgets are a lot more complex than pithy sound bytes from members of the opposing party who, in an election year, are loathed to say anything positive about the ranking elected official of the party in power. So what is the truth about President Bush„s budget and its impact on the people of New Jersey? Well, in some cases we win and in some cases we lose. In others, it„s still unclear. When it comes to homeland security, we can be hopeful that for the first time since 9/11 federal dollars will be allocated more on the basis of risk and threat as opposed to which senator or congressman represents your area and how close he or she is with the White House. The 9/11 Commission recommended that federal homeland security dollars be based solely on risk and threat, however, the President„s budget falls far short of that. Still, the good news is that New Jersey will receive more dollars from Washington to protect ourselves than we did last year. Yet, New Jersey„s cities like Newark, Jersey City and Atlantic City have been the hardest hit by the feds and they should be on the top of the list for money in this budget. Yet, that doesn„t appear to be the case. What about transportation? No doubt about it, New Jersey is definitely taking a hit because the President has proposed cutting the Amtrak budget by a whopping 30 percent. We are talking about $400 million. The total federal commitment to Amtrak is about half of what Amtrak needs to function. The rest of that must come from the hundreds of thousands of commuters, including 80,000 from New Jersey, who travel the Northeast Corridor every day to get to and from work. If Amtrak is to survive, Congress needs to restore some of this federal money or already high fares are going to go through the roof. Defense spending is being increased dramatically in the budget. Most of this money is going to support the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is that good for New Jersey? Some people think the answer depends upon whether you support the President„s decision to go to war after 9/11. I say, whether you supported the war or not, or live in New Jersey or California, if we are going to have our brave men and women in such peril, our country should do everything possible to give them everything they need, including safe and functioning equipment as well as reinforcements so that those who are there don„t have to be there one day longer than they need to. College students are taking a hit in the Bush budget. The federal budget proposes capping Pell Grants at about $4,000 for the fifth year in a row. Pell Grants go to needy students so that they can go to college. In the past five years, tuition has gone up nearly $600 on average. Over 115,000 New Jersey Pell Grant recipients are depending upon those dollars, while most New Jersey students are being hit with an 8 to 10 percent increase in tuition. Going to college in New Jersey costs more than it does in most other states, so cutting Pell Grants hurts our students disproportionately. Let„s talk health care. There is so much confusion on this issue. The Democrats argue that the President is cutting $36 billion from Medicare over the next five years. According to Lautenberg and Menendez, this will cost New Jersey $1 billion and adversely affect nearly 1 million elderly New Jerseyans. New Jersey has a huge senior population, second only to Florida, so any cuts in Medicare, again, unfairly impact New Jersey. However, while Democrats rail against the President„s Medicare plan, neither Democratic U.S. Senator nor any member of the Democratic delegation has offered a concrete plan to reduce the exploding costs associated with this popular entitlement program. The same thing is true when it comes to Social Security. The Democrats will blast the president, accusing him of trying to “privatize” social security and risking retiree benefits in the stock market. Our two Senators argue that it will “result in benefits cuts of 30 percent or more for future New Jerseyans who will receive social security benefits.” Technically, the Democrats may be accurate, but it is also accurate to say the Social Security Trust Fund is in big trouble and we must find a new mechanism to finance Social Security so it can be around to secure the future of New Jerseyans and other Americans. I am not sure the President is right, but I know that criticizing him for his Social Security plan won„t solve the problem and again the Democrats are mute when it comes to making any concrete recommendations to bolster Social Security. And don„t expect that to change in the mid-year Congressional election when control for both houses is up for grabs and a U.S. Senate seat in New Jersey will be on the table. So what„s the bottom line? Is President Bush„s budget “good” for New Jersey? The jury is still out, but one thing that is clear is that where most elected officials stand on the Bush budget largely depends upon where they sit, particularly for Democrats like Lautenberg and Menendez.