By Michael Hill
In Spanish and in English, they came advocating for a cause or asking for funding — boldly in this case.
“A minimum of $10 million a year,” said Jack Abgott of Preservation New Jersey.
Why? Because Preservation New Jersey says history generates revenue.
Others sought money for charter schools. Some say save a program for the elderly.
“We ask that you maintain funding for the most vulnerable members of our community,” said Inspira Health Network Vice President of External Relations Peter Kaprielyan.
Some — including mothers of addicts and still recovering addicts — said addiction treatment needs better funding.
“People are worth being helped and treated and when they are, they become productive members of society. I’m married now and I own a house a mile from here,” said Richard Alexander, president of Addiction Recovery Emergency Management and Marketing LLC.
But the comments that sparked the most conversation about the governor’s plan to spend nearly $34 billion next fiscal year came from New Jersey Working Families‘ Deborah Cornavaca, who said if you want to close the pension and other big budget gaps, stop giving money away.
“New Jersey now owns the record for the history of the nation of any state for giving away the most corporate tax subsidies, especially large dollar amounts over the past five years,” she said.
“As far as effectiveness goes, we don’t really know do we? There’s no way to go back and do a do-over and say if you hadn’t given these tax breaks, it could be that maybe our unemployment rate would be stuck at 7 percent,” said Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon.
“And I say unfortunately because we in the Legislature have been as guilty as the executive in not attaching to each one of these programs what exactly the expectation would be,” said Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Gary Schaer.
Cornavaca says the tax breaks amount to $5 billion and requested a moratorium on such generosity and that lawmakers force the state Treasury and the Economic Development Authority to reveal the giving of credits, subsidies and grants.
“We keep doing the same thing over and over again and we expect some kind of different result,” she said.
In the call for transparency, Cornavaca found plenty of support. Republican Jay Webber of Parsippany said, “you’re exactly right calling for additional transparency and accountability in these programs. I haven’t been able to get satisfactory answers from the EDA on what they require companies to show before they leave the state to throw millions of dollars in tax credits at them.”
Democrat Troy Singleton of Burlington says Webber voted against his bill to make EDA and other state spending transparent.
“So I was excited to hear Jay Webber do a commercial for my bill,” Singleton said.
“We’re hearing in the loudest and strongest possible terms that something is woefully amiss,” Schaer said.
Chairman of the assembly budget commission says this is not about citizens just blowing off steam about state spending, but it is about lawmakers listening and those citizens making an impact and he cited one example for last year.
“As a result of the discussions we added quite a bit of money, $12.5 million to nursing homes,” Schaer said.
New Jerseyans will have another opportunity to influence state spending next Wednesday at Passaic County Community College in Paterson.