Money Doesn't Grow on Trees
Steve Adubato, Ph.D.
Governor-elect Jim McGreevey has a new campaign on his hands, but
this one is going to be a lot harder than beating Bret Schundler
in a general election. This campaign involves convincing legislators
and citizens that spending must stop now. McGreevey and the rest
of us face a massive budget shortfall. This is no joke in Trenton.
Revenues are declining dramatically in the aftermath of September
11. Something has got to give.
McGreevey says it's time for the "pork" and the "Christmas
tree wish list" to stop. He is referring to a host of special
projects and grants awarded to numerous community groups, towns
and special interests that legislators sponsor to make them look
good back home with voters. I know about these kinds of things.
In the mid-1980s as a member of the legislature, I was able to get
a $25,000 state grant to buy a senior citizen bus for Verona. For
that brief, fleeting moment, I was wildly popular with the elderly
in Verona and I assure you these folks didn't consider that bus
wasteful "pork." They considered it good responsive government.
Only problem was that the voters in the six other towns I represented
wanted to know what I was going to do for them.
I share this with you because it highlights how incredibly difficult
it is going to be for Jim McGreevey to convince legislators and
voters that things are so bad that state government can no longer
be responsive in this way. I totally empathize with our new governor's
position. He has promised not to raise taxes and has a massive budget
deficit of possibly $3 billion to close. Cuts have to be made. There
will be sacrifice; there will be pain. Many of those who get hurt
will be people who worked very hard to elect Jim McGreevey. Many
of those who get hurt will be the children, seniors, the disabled
and taxpayers who I know Jim McGreevey wants very much to help.
Consider some items on the budgetary chopping block. A pre-school
in Mount Holly that serves disabled three- to five-year-olds that
is expecting to get a $35,000 state grant to pay for playground
equipment, computers and a van. Who could be against such a worthy
cause? Certainly not Jim McGreevey. Yet, this $35,000 grant which
was promised to the preschool may not happen because of McGreevey's
call to freeze all state spending. Officials at the pre-school say
that it would be a "tragedy" to not receive these funds
since these are "kids who have been through more than we would
want to go through in a lifetime." So the question is, is it
"pork" to help disabled little kids get some playground
equipment and computers?
And what about a $400,000 item in this year's budget for road improvements
in North Arlington? It's no secret that most towns pay big money
to maintain their roads. Road maintenance is one of the biggest
reasons for high property taxes. Yet, under the state freeze on
spending, there is a good chance that potholes on the streets of
North Arlington and countless other communities will remain. So
is it "pork" when the state helps towns fix their streets
with state money instead of extracting it from local citizens?
As one official in acting governor DiFrancesco's office said recently,
"if Jim McGreevey's talking about property tax relief for a
particular town that wants to buy a police car, I'm not sure we'd
call that a 'Christmas tree' item." See, that's the thing,
one man's "pork" project is another man's epitome of good,
responsive and caring government. For years, legislators have gone
out to town meetings and other public forums and asked constituents
how they can help. What they often hear is that people are looking
for state grants and money to support local projects. I'm sure that's
exactly how a $50,000 item was placed in the upcoming budget for
a "traumatic, unanticipated grief program" for South Jersey
Survivors of Violent Crime, Inc. I guarantee you Jim McGreevey isn't
against helping survivors of violent crime deal with the trauma
they have gone through. Like so many other worthwhile programs,
this one is in jeopardy.
So where do you cut? Who does get hurt? Who gets protected? And
while we're at it, is it really the right thing to not consider
a modest tax hike when our fiscal picture is so bleak? I applaud
our new governor for his bold and clear message that spending must
stop and that the "pork" must get cut out of the state
budget. If "pork" is supposed to be a bad thing to be
cut out, I ask you do any of the above projects sound like a bad
thing to you? Like I said, our new governor has an incredibly difficult
job on his hands. But he shouldn't be alone in this, because last
time I checked, money doesn't grow on trees.
Steve Adubato, Ph.D. is a commentator, lecturer and former state
legislator. Dr. Adubato is also an Emmy Award-winning television
anchor and syndicated columnist.
He can be reached by fax (973) 509-1659 or e-mail him at email@example.com.
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