As I am sure we can all agree, the unprecedented nature of our current budget crisis and its impact on the people of New Jersey makes convening this historic session of the Legislature a necessity. At the end of last week, we reached a point that none of us wanted to reach. As Fiscal Year 06 passed to Fiscal Year 07 without an approved and signed budget, the Constitution forbids us to spend money without duly authorized appropriations.
The shutdown of state government is much more than a mere inconvenience to the citizens of New Jersey. It is more serious than an interruption of a night at the track or a cancelled visit to Atlantic City.
It means the loss of a paycheck to tens of thousands of construction workers, casino workers and public employees. It means real hardship to small business owners who will lose income because they can’t sell lottery tickets. Make no mistake, people are being hurt and more will be hurt in the days ahead.
Beginning next week, the state will not have the ability to refund pharmacies for the medicine they are providing to our seniors. New home warranty certifications will be delayed–meaning families will not be able to move into homes they have purchased. Our summer educational camp for the blind and developmentally disabled children will have to be postponed. Each of us knows this situation has gone from unfortunate to unacceptable.
A known financial crisis, many years in the making, has turned into an immediate constitutional crisis and a personal crisis for our citizens. It is time to act. Actually, it is way past the time to act.
I understand an increase in the sales tax is politically difficult; just as the $2.5 billion in cuts I proposed in March were politically difficult. Any spending cut or any tax increase is politically risky. But I also understand that taking a problem head on is better than hiding from it, even when it hurts. Not doing the right thing because it’s too hard or too uncomfortable is not acceptable. Not today, and not ever.
I have been all around this state talking about the proposed budget. The public gets the problem. They may not know every line in the budget, but they understand way more than we give them credit for. They know that both parties have used gimmicks and short-term solutions to avoid stepping up to responsibilities. Our citizens know that they and their children will bear the burden to make things right. I will be nothing but upfront with them about our challenges and the solution.
The focus on short-term solutions to long-term problems has continuously compounded the state’s deficit. It cannot and will not continue. It has undermined our state’s credit rating and prevented us from addressing other challenges, like property taxes, stem cell research, school construction and ethics reform. For too long the main objective of the budget process has been to finish it.
The goal has been to complete a budget and go home with as little political discomfort as possible. Today, finishing the budget, simply for that purpose, is not good enough.
Short-term patches that get us through the night are no substitute for sound fiscal policies.
Last year, Governor Dick Codey in his budget address said budgets were “driven by the politics of survival. That there was always a gubernatorial election or a legislative election or some other reason that prevented an honest discussion of the state’s fiscal problem.” And building off that, the Legislature passed a budget that was significantly more responsible than in recent years and was rewarded with a credit upgrade from Wall Street. I seek to build on the hard work all of you started–to continue to rebuild our fiscal house and restore our fiscal foundation with honesty, forethought and discipline.