TRENTON – Whether it was a change of heart or classic politics, Gov. Chris Christie looked like, to use one of his phrases, “Santa Claus in an election year,” when he announced this past week he was going to restore funding for Transitional Aid and a center that treats abused children.
With regards to Transitional Aid, which is given mostly to help distressed municipalities, Christie returned from two weeks out West and said it was always his intention to provide the money that helps towns fund police and firefighters, among other services.
However, he argued that Democrats – in passing their budget – refused to set aside the money that would be used to ensure accountability.
Christie again called for the same condition during a Monday morning press conference, saying it is the only way to prevent waste, fraud and abuse in towns that have historically had such problems.
On the same day, Christie trekked to Newark to announce he would restore the $537,000 that was vetoed from the Wynona Lipman Center, which provides treatment and other services to children who have suffered various types of abuse, in particular sexual abuse.
Christie explained the money was made possible from federal funds the Department of Children and Families regularly applies for.
Both of those budget-related events occurred on Monday, and if those restored funding measures weren’t enough news for one week, Christie on Tuesday announced he was giving the go-ahead to the state’s medical marijuana program.
Six dispensaries around the state will be able to provide pot for medicinal purposes to individuals suffering from various serious illnesses.
Christie said the delay in granting approval was not because of ideological reasons. Rather, he said the extra time was needed to review the program after the federal Justice Department failed to provide enough specific details on the program’s implementation, specifically whether state workers would risk prosecution.
Christie also said he wanted to make sure there is strong oversight so that the New Jersey program does not end up resembling some of the other states’ programs that face criticism of abuse due to loose regulations.
The news keeps getting weirder when it comes to the state’s unemployment. While the state added a net 1,700 jobs (6,400 jobs in the private sector, but a loss of 4,700 jobs in the public sector), the state’s unemployment rate edged up to 9.5 percent, higher than the national average.
Much of the reason for that was the same as in previous months: more distressed, long-term unemployed are job-hunting again.
Harold Wirths of the Labor Department said he believed much of the public sector work force shrinkage stemmed from higher education employees leaving.
Tax break? What tax break?
So much for school boards providing taxpayers some much-needed relief in their pocketbooks. The Department of Community Affairs said this week that only a fraction of school districts intend to use the higher-than-originally-anticipated state aid for tax relief.
Gov. Chris Christie said during a house visit in Perth Amboy Thursday that he hopes school districts at least put some of the money in their surplus accounts and use it next year for tax relief.
Assessing the budget cuts’ effects
The governor was not the only one making news.
The Assembly Budget Committee – spurred by Democrats – held two hearings this week to assess the damage that will be caused if budget cuts are not restored.
First, on Tuesday, the committee took testimony regarding how the reduced funding will affect, among other things, a program that aids children placed in foster care and the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
Next, on Thursday, the committee heard from people representing seniors and disabled adults who warned of major problems for nursing homes and other agencies if cuts of more than $25 million are not replaced.
In addition to the testimony, the lawmakers found time to make the traditional political charges, with Republicans alleging that Democrats were just trying to generate election-season fodder, and Democrats responding that the Republicans need to acknowledge that the governor’s budget-slashing has real-world consequences.