BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Sen. Sarlo: Senate Budget Committee Hearing Was Frustrating

Legislators met for a Senate Budget Committee hearing today. Budget and Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Paul Sarlo told NJTV News Managing Editor Mike Schneider that the hearing was frustrating because Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff did not have answers for all questions, such as the number for online gaming revenue.

Sarlo said that he had spoken to Sidamon-Eristoff yesterday and had shared with him that he was not going to permit any questions dealing with the subject matter in the report about the ongoing investigation into the George Washington Bridge lane closures, but since it was the budget committee, Sarlo felt it was fair and appropriate to determine what the legal costs would be to cover the cost of attorneys working for the administration and the Assembly and Senate. He said that he was frustrated that there was no word on a contract, the cap amount and they have no bills in hand yet. He said that Sidamon-Eristoff punted that issue over to the Attorney General’s Office.

Sarlo said the attorney general is going to be appearing before the Senate Budget Appropriations Committee next Thursday and and it is not their mission to dive into the GWB matter but as the budget committee, members must look at hiring outside counsel at $650 an hour. He thinks the taxpayers of New Jersey have a right to know what it is costing them and who is covered by the Attorney General’s Office.

There is a shortfall of $526 million in the budget that Office of Legislative Services shows is lower than what Sidamon-Eristoff is projecting. Sarlo said that number has already been adjusted by close to $700 million. Sidamon-Eristoff is going to miss what was originally projected for the current fiscal year by close to $900 million and it is frustrating, Sarlo said. He said that as a member of the budget committee, every year more time is spent re-balancing the existing budget, but he would prefer to be able to spend more time talking about the building blocks of New Jersey, such as education.

“They’ve missed the targets in the last three fiscal years by $1.6 billion. It’s less than 1 percent in a total $33 billion budget, but $1.6 billion is a lot of money and it’s a lot of money that we could be investing elsewhere in the future of our state. We spend a lot of time talking about revenue projections. Internet gaming for instance, today we were frustrated, unable to give us a number,” said Sarlo. “Office of Legislative Services indicated that we would only realize in the current fiscal year $12 million. The projection was $160 million and Sidamon-Eristoff was unable to answer the question today. It was frustrating. How can the treasurer of the state of New Jersey not answer that question? He said that it is co-mingled with the casino revenue fund. It is the first time that we have ever heard that. This is a new revenue source, internet gaming. I want to be able to say here that we realized $160 million, but we didn’t.”

Sarlo said that Sidamon-Eristoff has to know the answers to questions like these because the Office of Legislative Services has that information.

Sarlo said that one of his frustrations is that New Jersey does not have a plan to deal with the transportation trust fund, investing in the infrastructure in the state. He said that five years ago, pay-go was discussed, where money comes from the general fund, and that was only done one time at $66 million. Sarlo said that since then, the state has been borrowing money and he does not believe that it can be funded through a general fund.

“We need to find a new revenue source whether it’s a user fee, some type of transportation user fee, or some type of gas tax — you need a new stable, dedicated funding source. I think when you explain to the public that it’s a stable, dedicated funding source, that this money can’t be siphoned off and diverted to balanced budgets but it’s going to be used to fix potholes, make bridges safer, reduce congestion, increase capacity, people will understand,” said Sarlo. “But that cannot be done by the Senate Budget Appropriations Committee. It has got to be done in a bipartisan manner. I asked Sidamon-Eristoff today, this is your fifth budget, when are we going to get a plan on dealing with transportation trust funding? And the response was next year. Every year we hear next year. There’s no long-term thinking here.”