Bid to restore $3M in after-school funding fails

TRENTON – An after-school program designed to keep kids out of trouble and provide enrichment activities failed to garner enough support to override a line-item veto that would have restored $3 million for the New Jersey After 3 after-school program.

The resolution to restore the funds, SCR-226, received a 23-13 vote, failing to reach the 27 votes needed.

Before the vote was taken, Democrats criticized Sen. Gerald Cardinale for dismissing the program as “a narrow interest” that helps few children.

The program would help some 5,000 students from more than 30, mostly urban, school districts who could be put at risk, as the program cuts could leave them unsupervised between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m., potentially keeping them out of crime. The amount comes out to $600 per child, annually.

Sen. Ray Lesniak, (D-20) of Elizabeth, sponsor of the bill, said funding the program would help stanch the many program cuts experienced by taxpayers.

“How many body blows will the working poor have to endure before the government of New Jersey is satisfied,” he said.

He said the earned income tax credit and access to health care have also been cut off to many of the working poor. When Lesniak made those comments, Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean interjected “on the bill,” implying that Lesniak was talking off-topic.

Gerald Cardinale said the program is indicative of the Democrats’ “irresponsible approach” toward government spending.

“He is going to use money for some, but not all,” he said. “It’s ridiculous. It points out that we have many, unfortunately, who are stuck on spending and will dream of any kind of program to justify it.”

Sen. Shirley Turner (D-15) of Trenton, another sponsor of the resolution, said it’s important to not have “a penny-wise and pound foolish” attitude toward the program, saying that if the state fails to invest now, “we are going to pay a lot more down the road,”

After hearing remarks from Democrats, Cardinale, who described himself as a product of a city and raised by a single parent, said the program wasn’t cost-effective because few kids would benefit. He dismissed After 3 as “a narrow interest.”

“A program useful in particular little areas should not be supported by the taxpayers at large,” he said.

He later said if supporters think it’s such a good program, “Why don’t you tax your own people. Why are you taxing the people of the 39th District…

Those monies do not come back to our folks.”

“You want to fund the program, fine. Pay for it yourselves.”

Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37) of Teaneck was puzzled by Cardinale’s characterization of New Jersey After 3 as a narrow program.

“We are not talking about millionaires, here.”

Sen. Ronald Rice (D-28) said Cardinale’s remarks had a “subliminal” message.

Shortly after the vote, the governor’s office released this statement:

“Democrats are more interested in scoring political points and undoing the hard work and difficult choices that were needed to balance last year’s budget than in being honest with the people of New Jersey.

“The truth about the NJ After 3 program is that funding was provided to the program in last year’s budget with the understanding that the program would finally transition to its intended purpose – financial independence through philanthropic fundraising without an ongoing state subsidy.

“Now in an election year, Democrats are distorting reality in a cynical and disingenuous manner merely for political gain.”

Bid to restore $3M in after-school funding fails