This week has been busy in politics with the Supreme Court upholding President Barack Obama’s health care law, continued talks about the proposed college merger and fights over the proposed state budget. Sen. Barbara Buono (D-18) weighed in on all those issues with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider.
Buono said the proposed college merger is complex and it needs time to make sure the state gets it right. “We can’t afford to get it wrong and unfortunately the process has been marred by a lot of furtive, last minute amendments that a lot of people haven’t read and certainly don’t understand,” she said, adding that without the financial implications fully known she doesn’t believe a decision can be made in good faith.
Buono said she believes the Supreme Court made the right decision by upholding the health care law that would require individuals to have health insurance. “I think it’s good news for the people of New Jersey, good news for the people of the United States of America that they can count on having health care, that they don’t have to be afraid that if they’ve had cancer or some other preexisting condition that they’ll be denied,” she said. “We should be happy that our children will be able to stay on their parents’ policies until they’re on their feet.”
Members of the Senate and Assembly approved a state budget that Gov. Chris Christie has criticized heavily. Buono voted for the budget because she said it’s fiscally responsible. She said legislators cut spending, which was necessary. “I was very concerned and continue to be concerned about the governor’s revenue projections,” she said. “He has our revenue growing at a rate which is far greater than any other state in the rest of the nation and yet our overall revenues are less than they were a number of fiscal years ago.”
Buono said she is very concerned for next year’s budget process and believes this fiscal year’s budget will have to be revisited and cuts will have to be made to re-balance it.
The most disconcerting part of the process for Buono was the lack of negotiations from the governor. “But what concerned me really most about the process is that this is the most important document that the state legislature works on and yet the governor just refused to negotiate with the legislature. He drew a line in the sand and said, ‘If you don’t have my income tax cut in there, then I’m not going to negotiate.’ And I think that that was really an abdication of leadership,” she said. “I think the people of this state deserve and they count on us to come together and build consensus around the issues that aren’t easy to solve.”
While Senate President Stephen Sweeney had been in talks with Christie to come to a compromise for a tax cut, Buono said “reality set in” after David Rosen from the Office of Legislative Services and the treasurer testified before the budget committees, saying the state’s revenues were going down.
“We have a lot of fixed costs that we have to cover and so to incorporate at tax cut into that under these circumstances, it would have been the height of irresponsibility to do that at this point in time,” Buono said. “That’s why I supported the Democrats’ plan to bank the $183 million in our surplus and wait and see if in fact the governor’s revenue projections do pan out.”
She explained that nothing is lost by waiting because a tax cut wouldn’t take effect until January 2013. She also added that replenishing the surplus is important.
“At least we have another $183 million in our reserve. And in a budget of this size, we should’ve had about $900 million to about a billion dollar reserve,” Buono said. “We now have a little over $300 million so we’re skating on the edge here and I think the budget year next year is not going to be pretty.”