Our major objective for 2010 can be summed up in two words—cut spending.
It’s not going to be easy, and it certainly won’t be welcome news for the thousands of public and private entities that have received state funding for years and have come to consider state handouts an entitlement.
Everyone is suffering from the effects of the recession. Balancing budgets will be a daunting task for every municipality, county and school board in the state. But the financial difficulty they face pales by comparison with the sorry state of New Jersey’s budget.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it. We’re broke.
Years of spending beyond our means, relying on one-shot budget fixes, creating new spending programs without a second thought where the money to fund them will come from, and refusing to say “no” to public employee unions and a bevy of special interests have taken a horrible toll on the state’s finances.
In January, when Governor Chris Christie took office and the 214th Legislature convened, we inherited a state budget that has a $2 billion-plus deficit and a projected $11 billion hole in the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
There are only three ways to deal with this dire situation. We can raise taxes, cut spending or attempt some combination of the two. None of these options are painless. However, the course that would inflict the most pain on taxpayers, who are already taxed to the max and desperately trying to keep their own heads above water, would be to raise their taxes.
That’s one road no one, especially Governor Christie, wants to take. So we are left with only one option: cut, cut and then cut some more!
Some programs will have to be scaled back, suspended or eliminated permanently.
Does this mean theater companies and medical research facilities (to name just two of the hundreds of beneficiaries who look to Trenton for a helping hand) may not get as much money as they have in the past or any money at all? Absolutely!
Does this mean the Governor and the Legislature don’t consider them and the services they provide worthy of support? Not at all, though some will falsely accuse us of being “cold hearted.”
But when bankruptcy is staring you in the face, you must prioritize. Tough decisions must be made. The average New Jersey family is struggling to pay their mortgage, put food on their table and clothes on their children’s back. Seniors are struggling to hold onto their homes and pay for much needed medication.
Our priority must be to keep the economy alive so people can have jobs, pay their bills and keep a roof over their head.
As one New Jersey newspaper stated in a recent editorial, we are left with the unenviable task of “tearing into some of the expensive sacred cows that the Trenton lifers hold
We are aware that local officials, county freeholders and school board members will say that if their state aid is cut, all it does is shift the burden to them. The fact of the matter is towns, counties and school districts face the same options we do. They should summon the courage to reduce spending.
Government, at all levels, is not the “victim.” Our financial situation is the result of years of pandering to special interests and trying to solve everyone’s problems regardless of the financial consequence. In essence, government itself became the “problem.”
Many of our wounds were self-inflicted. On the state level, we have spent too much, borrowed too much and taxed too much. Instead of encouraging economic growth, creating jobs and making sure New Jersey remains an affordable place to live, we have saddled residents with the highest tax burden in the nation and now have the dubious distinction of being the state with the worst business climate in the entire country. If that isn’t double jeopardy, nothing is.
There is no way to resolve problems that were years in the making without pain. But as Governor Christie said in his inauguration speech “we in office must not shrink from the challenge, we must rise to it.” As we work in a bipartisan manner to restore fiscal sanity, we can never forget that the taxpayers are the real “victims” of the reckless decisions that were made in the past. They are truly the ones who are entitled to our help the most.
The people of New Jersey need government at all levels off their backs and out of their pockets. There are services government must provide. But the foremost concern of government must be how much the taxpayers can afford. This means every town, every county, every school district and most certainly our own state government must learn to make do with whatever resources are available to them and stop banking on bailouts and permanent “entitlements.”
We must all bear our share of the pain. But the pain we endure today will provide good paying jobs, reduced property taxes and economic security for future generations.