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Buono says Christie has declared “martial law” in budget measures (updated 2x)

Posted by edison1205 on February 12, 2010


This post is updated to reflect new links from the governor’s page providing further details on his proposed budget cuts.

Has Republican governor Chris Christie effectively declared war on New Jersey’s middle class and working families in his speech of Feb. 11?  State Senator Barbara Buono, who represents Edison, says that the governor’s unilateral plans in his executive order are equivalent to “martial law.”  For his part, Gov. Christie denies being a usurper, and claims, “I am not a dictator.

Below are some questions and answers about the process and substance his budget announcements.

Q.           Is the governor’s declaration of a fiscal “emergency” legal?

A.            Probably not.  The Governor cites the “Disaster Control Act, N.J.S.A. App.A:9-30 et seq.” as grounds for the emergency.  But that law is very limited; it defines “emergency” as meaning only a “disaster” or a “war emergency,” specifically:

(1)  “Disaster”  shall mean any unusual incident resulting from natural or unnatural causes which endangers the health, safety or resources of the residents of one or more municipalities of the State, and which is or may become too large in scope or unusual in type to be handled in its entirety by regular municipal operating services.
.  .  .

(3)  “War emergency”  shall mean and include any disaster occurring anywhere within the State as the result of enemy attack or the imminent danger thereof.

A:9-33.1.  Past spending decisions, even if unwise, are neither a “disaster” nor a “war emergency” as the law defines those terms.  If his plans are challenged in court — and they will be — no one knows whether a judge will sign off.

Q.           OK.  It’s not as if this is the first time a Republican chief executive has been accused of overreaching by claiming emergency powers.  But doesn’t state government have the power to balance the budget if tax revenues fall short?

A.            Yes.  Another state law says that in the case of “extravagance, waste or mismanagement,” the Governor can halt payouts by an agency of state government that are not “in the best interests of the State.”

More importantly, though, budget cutting is a legislative function in a democracy, and the Legislature can and must make the decisions on how spending is reduced.  They cannot be unilateral decisions of the Governor.

Q.           Has the Governor made any findings of “extravagance, waste or mismanagement”?

A.            His speech on Feb. 11 referred to “375 different state programs” he was cutting. Further detail can be found in this document entitled “FY2010 Budgt [sic] Solutions as A Foundation For Reform.”  Still, it’s hard to find items where he is making a specific finding of extravagance, waste or mismanagement.

Q.           Let’s turn to some of the specific cuts Christie is proposing.  What I want to know is this: even if his cuts were legal, are they wise?  Let’s start with public schools.

A.            Christie proposes to cut school aid from now through June 30 by $475 million, making schools use their reserve  funds to make up the difference.

Q.           Let me see if I understand this: schools collected local taxes, including “rainy day” funds, and now the Governor want to withhold the same amount of state aid, and punish overburdened property taxpayers twice?  Maybe I misunderstood, because that’s inane.

A.            But that is exactly what the governor proposes.  Some think this will mean more property taxes and will cause bond ratings to go down.

Q.           Wow.  Well, at least I’m thankful that he’s not cutting college and university funding.  After all, during the campaign, he promised to “increase funds for higher education” as Governor and reiterated that agenda after winning the election.

A.            Yeah . . . not so fast, college boy!  He is cutting higher education by $62 million.

Q.           My G-d!  What other programs important to me, my family, and my neighbors, is he cutting?

A.            Do you use a train, bus, or light rail?  Well, you’re now at risk of service cuts or fare increases of 20-30%, or both!

Like clean air, or clean water?  Tough!  The State’s leading environmental advocate, Dave Pringle, criticized the decision to Governor’s proposal to “dilute clean energy funds.”

Q.           What do our U.S. senators and Congresspersons have to say about this?

A.            Leonard Lance, who represents parts of North Edison, showed up at the Feb.11 budget address.  He had favorable things to say about Christie’s moves against education, colleges and universities, mass transit, and other services that working families need.

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