Below are floor remarks by Senate Budget and Appropriations Chairman Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) introducing the state budget (S-4000), as prepared for delivery:
Thank you, Mr. President.
Mr. President, it is my pleasure today to introduce this budget.
It is a proposal that resets the priorities of New Jersey.
It is a proposal that is fair, and honest. It is based on real, achievable figures. And it will begin to close the wounds to our state that have been made by a thousand arbitrary cuts.
Mr. President, fellow senators, on your desks – or, at least, on the laptops on your desks – is the state’s Fiscal Year 2012 state budget.
There are some calling this a ‘Democratic’ budget. I simply say it is a budget for New Jersey.
One year ago, we stood here and passed a tough budget that was based on a premise, and a promise, of “shared sacrifice.”
Over time, we learned that the premise was false, and the promise was broken.
Only through tough sacrifice, we were told, could we return New Jersey from the edge of the abyss. And look what happened.
Our schools, which had long been expected to do more with less, were forced to do less with even less.
Last year, the Governor slashed over $1 billion in direct aid to New Jersey classrooms.
Teachers were laid off. Class sizes soared. Course offerings were slashed. And, in many districts, parents were taxed again, on top of what they already were paying in property taxes, just to let their kids play a sport or join an after school activity.
This budget will once again make our schools a priority.
We are not going to stop at simply meeting the Supreme Court’s dictate that we fund the 31 so-called Abbott districts … because we know that every child, in every school, deserves our support.
This budget will direct $580 million to the 215 non-Abbott, below adequacy districts.
These are districts all but forgotten in the debates between the haves and the have-nots.
We can’t let those children be casualties. Now they won’t be.
And, this budget will spread another $87 million around to every other school district in the state – a partial repayment for aid lost over the last year. That’s property tax relief.
We also are attaching safeguards to this funding, ensuring that it finds its way into the classroom – where it is most needed – and not into the pockets of administrators.
We all must recognize that the future of our state, both literally and figuratively, rests with our schools. Our future is worth this investment.
One year ago, we passed a budget that our colleagues on the other side trumpeted as not containing any tax hikes.
Unfortunately, they were wrong. Their budget did raise taxes. And, most ominously, it raised taxes on those residents who least deserved it: the working poor.
The slashing of the Earned Income Tax Credit raised taxes on 485,000 low-income working families.
Let me focus on that … working families.
The EITC is not welfare, it’s not a handout, it’s not a payment for doing nothing – all things I have heard from those on the other side.
The EITC is hope for those struggling in the lower income brackets who dare to dream that if they keep working, they can claw their way up to the middle-class.
These are families we should be building up, not breaking down. For many, it is simply winter coats for the kids and a little more food on the table.
Ronald Reagan said it best, the Earned Income Tax Credit was “the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress.”
On this one, the Gipper was correct.
This budget will restore those cuts to the EITC, and restore hope to hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans that they will get just a little bit more in their pockets to give their loved ones a better life.
One year ago, we passed a budget that broke a solemn promise to thousands of senior citizens who enrolled in the Senior Freeze property tax program.
Once you’re in, we had told them, your property taxes would be frozen. Wouldn’t go up. Forget about it. You can stay in your homes and retire in dignity.
But then this administration changed its mind. It put the Senior Freeze into the deep freeze. We’ll give you the money we gave you last year, they said, but any hikes are coming out of your pocket.
Seniors who were told their property taxes wouldn’t go up … had their property taxes go up.
And, even worse, we sent applications – meaningless, worthless applications – to thousands of new seniors urging them to enter the program … oh, but ignore the fact that it won’t do you a bit of good because we’re not accepting new applications.
This budget will thaw that freeze. It will ensure that seniors with incomes of $70,000 or less are made whole, that the promise we made to them is renewed, and that they will receive the property tax relief they were promised, then denied.
Those are just three shining examples of the good that this budget will do…but there are more:
Women’s health funding, restored;
The plan to kick everyone with incomes over $5,000 off Medicaid, shelved;
Tuition aid grants, restored;
Educational opportunity fund, an opportunity once again;
Hagedorn Psychiatric Hospital and Vineland Developmental Center, saved;
Sheltered workshops and the employment opportunities they provide for the developmentally disabled, restored;
And on and on and on down the list.
Where lives matter, this budget is there.
And it can be there because it is built on a fiscal base of honest, real and attainable revenues.
This budget recognizes that we need to maximize every dollar, and shouldn’t ever be content to just do less with less.
Every year, over the past ten years, we have let budgets lapse an average of nearly $450 million.
Instead of letting hundreds of millions of dollars lapse year after year, we should let that money go to work now to help our residents.
And this budget does that.
And we are basing our budget on a realistic, nonpartisan estimate of revenues.
Last week, in unprecedented fashion – and I have found myself saying ‘unprecedented’ with respect to the actions of this administration an unprecedented number of times – the governor’s office has made clear where they stand.
Today we mark our position.
I ask you to stand today with an office that has no partisan leaning, rather than one whose every spoken word and written number is cloaked in the politics of the administration.
I ask you to stand with an office that history has shown to be the more accurate and conservative measure.
This is a budget for the people.
It is fair.
It is based on New Jersey’s realities and tailored to meet New Jersey’s priorities.
And it should be passed.
Mr. President, I move the bill.