Transitional aid to cities still reduced, as last override of the day fails

TRENTON – Many sources have reported that municipal aid will be re-instated as the budget process proceeds, but for today a $139 million cut to transitional aid stands. An override attempt failed, 24-12, which for now leaves cities such as Camden and Trenton in a lurch in the coming year.

“The lifeline of keeping some of these cities surviving,” according to state Sen. Donald Norcross (D-5), of Camden, the transitional aid has been reduced over three years from $221 million, to $159 million, to a proposed $149 million this year coming. Now, that funding has been reduced to $10 million through the governor’s cut, he said.

Norcross reminded the Republican senators that he and some of his colleagues crossed the aisle a few weeks ago to pass seminal pension and benefits reform, “acting as one in New Jersey to address those issues.”

“I ask you to do the same thing we did a few weeks ago,” he said, noting that Moody’s Investors Service has reported a severe negative effect to the cities who were banking on state help. “Many of the cities that we are talking about – if they were corporations – they would have packed up and moved to Mexico,” Norcross said. “But they can’t do that.”

State Sen. Steve Oroho (R-24), of Franklin Township, said, “This was supposed to be a temporary program…There’s probably not one town or county or municipality that would say, ‘We don’t need it anymore.’ ”

“The way to have the longest life of a program in Trenton is to call it temporary,” Oroho said. Of the 21 municipalities awarded funding in FY11, he said, 18 asked for an increase in funding from their FY10 totals.

Oroho pointed out what Gov. Chris Christie called budgetary removal-of-oversight over the program. Qualifying questions by the oversight group, Oroho said, uncovered some irregularities in operations of the receiving towns. For instance, one town was found to have all nine elected council persons receiving $27,000 per year health benefits. Another town had a director of finance with no government finance experience “whatsoever,” Oroho said.

State Sen. Brian Stack (D-33), of Union City said, “If you think these cities are struggling now, you will basically shut them down.”

He also defended the oversight still in place under the Department of Community Affairs: “You can’t hire a crossing guard without going through DCA.”

State Sen. Shirley Turner (D-15), of Lawrenceville, said distressed cities like Trenton could fail as a result. “These mayors will have to hand over the keys and you will be left to operate it,” she said to her colleagues.

State Sen. Diane Allen (R-7), of Edgewater Park, said she hopes to see the funding restored if state revenues come in higher than the administration’s conservative projections. “(Christie) was given a budget that was not balanced,” she said. “It is my hope that many of these things will be back with us.”

The override failed, 24-12, with Allen continuing to not vote for any of the override measures. Procedurally, since the chamber is “under call,” Allen has been recorded as a ‘no’ vote for each item.

Republican state Sens. Joe Pennacchio (R-24), Sean Kean (R-11), and Andy Ciesla (R-10) are absent from the session today.

Transitional aid to cities still reduced, as last override of the day fails