Torricelli on budget items as lifesavers

Jon Corzine'snear tragic accident has interrupted an intense debate among journalists, legislators and federal prosecutors. The subject has been the legislative practice of placing "Christmas Tree" items inappropriations legislation.

The speculation has been that these expenditures, quietly placed in legislation during the still of the night, are inevitably self serving and wasteful. The Governor's accident, rather than distracting from this debate, might actually shed a little light on the subject.

Governor Corzine might owe his life tothe quick evacuation to the trauma center at Cooper Hospital. Cooper has long possessed a quality emergency unit that was the rival of its North Jersey counterparts. What it didn't posses was a modern helicopter landing facility that could get patients efficiently from the site of an accident to an operating table.

It was a vulnerability that wasn't fair to the people of South Jersey. Neither the bureaucracy in Trenton or Washington responded. What did work was the political system.

One night I approached Senator Byrd, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, with a request.The President's Budgethad ignored requests to strengthen emergency evacuation in southern New Jersey by replacing the inadequate helicopterlanding pad at Cooper Hospital.The item was too small to gather legislative support. I needed him to insert a line item in an appropriation bill.

The result was the construction of a new emergency landing site at Cooper Hospital. A more immediate resultwas the rapid response to the Governor's accident. The larger point is that neither legislative leaders nor the appointed bureaucracy are always the best allocators of resources. What sometimesworks best is individual legislators responding to requests from constituents.

What makes this such a great example isthat only one person ever called to ask for the new helicopter pad. It was George Norcross.

Torricelli on budget items as lifesavers