Speakers praise lawmakers but seek more money for programs at budget hearing

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

Court-appointed Special Advocates of New Jersey was among the speakers asking the state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee to keep the spending increase the governor proposes for the agency. It’s more money than last year to have more success in advocating for children.

“With the additional $500,000, we intend to serve an additional 400 more kids this fiscal year,” said Liza Kirschenbaum, associate director of CASA of NJ.

As volunteers held signs “I am for the child,” CASA volunteer Linda Blackburn described how she intervened, advocated for, and noticed the developing bond between a special needs girl and a foster family that initially had no intention of adopting her.

“I reported those troubles to the courts and urged them to investigate. Unfortunately, ‘Katie’ was being abused,” said Blackburn. “My advocacy changed the course of ‘Katie’s’ life and led to her adoption by ‘Ms. P.'”

Advocates for fair school funding thanked lawmakers for mapping out a plan for full funding, and then expressed offense.

“Working with over 100 under-aided school districts, I am appalled to hear that superintendents from significantly over-aided districts appear before you and attempt to rewrite the funding narrative without fact or substance,” said Jennifer Cavallaro-Fromm, founder of the Fair Funding Action Committee.

Camden County College President Dan Borden praised the Community College Opportunity Grant for making school more affordable, but asked for more.

“We would also ask you to consider raising the income eligibility criteria from $45,000 to $ 77,000, which is the state’s median household income. This would allow more middle-income students to benefit from this investment,” said Borden.

Christina Renna, senior vice president of the Chambers of Commerce of South Jersey, said the state won’t need a millionaire’s tax if it switched public employees from platinum to gold health care coverage and then praised the governor’s cost saving initiative.

“I do want to start by commending Gov. Murphy for identifying a billion dollars in savings in this budget. It was really refreshing to hear that he wasn’t just looking to raising taxes,” Renna said.

The hearing is taking in place in Senate President Steve Sweeney’s home district and he wanted to remind folks what the 3rd District is up against.

“My district happens to be the poorest district in the state of New Jersey. When everyone thinks poverty, they think Camden, they’ll think Newark, they’ll think Trenton. Well this is a different kind of poverty. It’s called rural poverty, where you don’t have transportation, you don’t have the needs. There’s less support here than there is in other parts of the state. When we talk about we want more money for NJ Transit, I’m all on board. I just want some transit,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney is holding his own set of hearings on the state’s fiscal condition called Path to Progress. But he insists lawmakers and the governor are much more on the same page with the governor’s nearly $39 billion budget plan than last year when the two butted heads and in the eleventh hour averted a state government shutdown.