Today's Sunbeam

Cuts To N.J. State Budget Would Impose Painful Cuts On Many

Today's Sunbeam — Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Associated Press Writer

Paulette Eberle has had to get creative to stretch a dollar. Facing many medical maladies requiring medication, the blind 58-year-old saved money by cutting her cholesterol pills in half to make the prescription last twice as long.

Disabled residents like Eberle worry that Gov. Jon S. Corzine's $2.7 billion in proposed state budget cuts will be devastating to the state's most vulnerable, forcing some to go hungry or skip needed medicines.

Corzine presented a sober budget address Tuesday, saying his steep spending reduction proposals were an unpleasant but necessary antidote to years of runaway state spending.

"I am pained by the stress and anguish brought to our people's lives by the cuts proposed," Corzine said.

As the public learns more about the deep and painful cuts looming – which include new Medicaid copays, eliminating some property tax rebates, laying off state workers and trimming welfare rolls – the concern has started turning to dread.

"The message of the speech is the right message," said Assemblyman John Burzicheli, D-3, of Paulsboro. "The cost of government has to come down. We have to do more with less like many Americans already do."

"When the govemor went around the state promoting his plan for reducing debt, the message from the public was that they wanted spending cuts," said Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney, D-3, of West Deptford. "Too many people see 'government' as an obstacle because of its high levels of taxpayer spending. I applaud the governor's efforts for getting this process started full swing." The'Corzine administration

The Corzine administration said the pain of the budget will be felt across the board as the state tries to rein in spending to close a widening fiscal gap. State Treasurer David Rousseau said the administration tried to protect education, public safety, the most vulnerable residents and low- and middle-income property taxpayers as much as possible, but that it was impossible to shield even those groups entirely.

Advocates for the homeless, disabled and poor have already begun raising their voices.

Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action, a government watchdog group, said she fears the budget will be balanced on the backs of the poor.

"Our main concern is how and where the governor is looking at making cuts," she said.

The Rev. Bruce Davidson of the Anti-Poverty Network said the budget address was so void of details that reacting to it was difficult.

"We may have to wait a couple of weeks" for the effects to be known, Davidson said.

But he said Medicaid copays, which the governor mentioned in his speech but provided no detail as to how much they might cost, would be a burden to the most needy.

Advocates for the downtrodden aren't the only ones up in arms over the proposed cuts.

Environmental activists fear that downsizing of the Department of Environmental Protection will have a "devastating impact" on everything from the hours state parks are open to water pollution testing to ensuring chemical sites are properly cleaned up, said David Pringle of the New Jersey Environmental Federation.

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