The late night executive order to halt all TTF funded road and transit projects stole the spotlight but it wasn’t the only one. Gov. Chris Christie also ordered a $100 million freeze to aid for some of the state’s most distressed cities. The administration is reserving $54 million in transitional aid and $45 million in funds for social programs until, the governor says, public employees and the Legislature find a way to cut $250 million in their health benefits. Assemblywoman Shovanda Sumter represents parts of Bergen and Passaic County in the 35th district and spoke with NJTV News Correspondent Briana Vannozzi.
Vannozzi: Part of that district is Paterson. How much state aid does Paterson receive and how much is on the line here?
Sumter: Right now we have over $25 million on the line and our administration locally has worked hard in consort with the governor and fiscal monitor to come up with a budget plan that is palatable and admirable. So to have those funds held hostage is deplorable.
Vannozzi: What kinds of programs, what kinds of social services are we talking here?
Sumter: This impacts the entire city’s budget. Its ability to provide public safety, especially in these times where it’s warm outside, folks are outside. On Tuesday I went to a funeral for a drive-by shooting and that is something that is of heightened concern for an older woman. We had a shooting of a 13-year-old a couple years ago, a 16-year-old and then we know what’s happening around the county. We can’t afford to put our brothers and sisters in blue in danger. We can’t afford to put our residents in danger.
Vannozzi: So you’re concerned that there’s safety risks involved with this?
Sumter: There are definitely safety risks involved. You have a population who’ve paid property taxes over the 2 percent cap and now we’re holding them hostage for contractual obligation for benefits for fire, police and public employees which is not the responsibility of $25 million in aid. And the money’s there.
Vannozzi: The governor says though, ‘Listen, the Legislature put forward this budget, said there were going to be $250 million in cuts but never actually outlines how they were going to do so, so I’m holding this money until they show me they’re able to do this.’
Sumter: Talk is cheap and words have little meaning to us now. It’s a job that needs to be done now in the executive office. We put together a Democratic budget that funded the priorities of the residents of the state. It met the needs for our senior citizens, for our students, for our children, for our urban centers, for our suburban centers. We can’t shirk on our responsibility.
Vannozzi: We have less than a minute. Does this impact schools as well?
Sumter: This also impacts our schools and our ability to make sure that they’re safe for crossing, of our children, for preschools. He also cut funding for those, which impacts suburban districts. I’m not sure what the governor’s priorities are but he can’t continue to hold us hostage.
Vannozzi: Last question, rumors that you’re throwing your hat in the ring for governor. Will you run?
Sumter: There are complex, complex issues and I’m excited that people are encouraging me to run so I’m weighing that.
Vannozzi: Tell us now, will you run?
Sumter: I’ll be sure to let you know first.