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Lawmakers Hear Pleas for More State Funding for Transit, Schools, Cities

Friday, March 25, 2016   (0 Comments)
Share | 03/25/16

Residents of New Jersey’s cities need better schools, improved public transportation and more state funding for services like legal aid and lead abatement. In more rural and less affluent South Jersey, there have been calls for more state money for land preservation and affordable housing, while throughout the state residents have been asking for increased aid for K-12 school districts. Now, it’s up to lawmakers who are in the middle of reviewing the budget Gov. Chris Christie proposed last month for the state’s next fiscal year to balance all of those concerns as they work on drafting a new appropriations bill by a July 1 deadline. In all, spending would go up by about $1 billion under the $34.8 billion budget that Christie has drawn up, but several key areas that directly impact cities would see flat funding or only slight increases. And while funding for New Jersey Transit’s subsidy would also be increased, several of those who testified during a more than six-hour Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing held yesterday at New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark said the state must commit more funding to public transportation.

Cities face tough problems
The budget hearing -- the final one of five that Senate and Assembly lawmakers have held this month as they continue to review Christie’s budget, came at a critical time for many of New Jersey’s cities. For example, Newark is facing an ongoing lead-poisoning problem in its school system, Paterson is struggling with severe school-funding concerns, and Atlantic City is looking at a possible city shutdown next month due its significant financial struggles. Janna Chernetz, senior New Jersey policy analyst for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, told the committee members the state needs more than patchwork funding for mass transit. She called for a “long-term transportation funding plan.” The lack of investment in New Jersey Transit hits city residents the hardest because they often don’t have other means of transportation. “That’s people who rely on mass transit to get to work, to get to school, and to get to their much-needed health appointments,” Chernetz said.New Jersey’s lack of stable funding for its Transportation Trust Fund is also a big concern, she said. The trust fund spends more than $3 billion annually on road, bridge and rail improvements, but right now it will run out of money by the end of June unless Christie and lawmakers can figure out a way to extend it.

Concerns about infrastructure
Concerns about investment in other types of infrastructure, including school facilities in Newark, were also raised during the hearing. Earlier this month, local school district officials started providing students with bottled water in dozens of city public schools after elevated levels of lead were detected. The exact source of the contamination has yet to be found, but officials are concerned about old lead plumbing and lead solder in fixtures. Toni Granato, program assistant for the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, said the Christie administration has diverted money away from environmental programs. Those funds “could be used to remove lead from the schools here in Newark and elsewhere,” Granato said. She also referred to Christie’s decision earlier this year to veto lawmakers’ attempts to restore $10 million in funding for lead-abatement efforts. “The governor is balancing the budget on the backs of the environment and the people here in New Jersey,” she said. 

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