By Briana Vannozzi
The governor still maintains New Jersey is ahead of the curve when it comes to testing and remediation for lead exposure — be it through paint or drinking water — but says he’s doubling down his commitment by reallocating $10 million in the state budget to support a lead abatement and containment program.
“This funding has been identified by my administration within existing 2016 budget funds and will be made available for this purpose so that we can address and double the amount of money we’re spending on lead remediation efforts but do it in a fiscally responsible way,” Christie said.
Christie says the so called lead hazard fund — which was set up years ago to collect sales tax on paint cans and generate money for lead abatement — never really existed. Because the state had no way to track the sales tax receipts.
“There’s been a fiction about how this all works and a fiction that we’re not spending that money. That somehow that money has been diverted. This year alone we’ve spent $7 million on the inspections through DCA and an additional $5.4 million on the testing issue as well so we’ve already this year spent over $12 million in the effort to both detect the problem and to abate the problem,” Christie said.
The governor was criticized last month after he said Newark’s problem with lead in the drinking water at the public schools wasn’t a crisis. He didn’t back down today, but offered a more conciliatory approach.
“Again, a point that’s been distorted. The primary concern in New Jersey has been and remains the outdated lead based paint in our old housing stocks, not water sources. That’s the major problem that we have regarding lead in New Jersey,” he said.
The $10 million will go to low- and moderate-income households and will be overseen by the DCA.
“They will work through nonprofit organizations, as we always have, with experience in lead remediation programs to identify licensed lead evaluation contractors and EPA-certified, lead-safe renovation firms to assess and remediate lead-based paint hazards,” Christie said.
Lawmakers have introduced three bills to help fund lead programs. One requires a statewide mandate on testing drinking water, but provides no cost estimate. Another puts a tax on glass and plastic bottles. The governor wouldn’t say where he stands, but offered this: “I’ve seen all these plans of all this money replacing pipes and all of it. I just want everybody to be cautious about all this. If that’s what we need to do then we’ll consider doing what we need to do in cooperation with the legislature. But what I’m always worried about in this circumstance is like shoot first, aim later.”
The governor emphasized that screening for lead exposure has increased dramatically over the last 20 years. Twenty times more children were tested in 2015 than in 1998. He says the state won’t stop current programs. This money is intended to add to it.