Herald News

Proposed Cuts Cause Uproar

The poor, educators, environmentalists brace for hard hits

Herald News / NorthJersey.com — 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.

And 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.

"You have to have a cold heart to put people through that," said Tyrone Blake, a 50-year-old recovering drug abuser who is studying for his high school equivalency diploma, looking for a job, and collecting welfare.

Blake, who gets $140 a month in cash and $160 in food stamps, said he'd be homeless if it weren't for the modest benefits from the state, which may be eliminated under the governor's budget. He can afford only to rent a room from his mother, he says, and all his clothes come from thrift stores.

Asked what he would do without a safety net from the state, Blake cast his eyes downward. "It would be disastrous if they did that," he said.

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.

Educators are also bracing for cuts to higher education.

The last time the state cut higher education funding in 2006, Rutgers responded by raising tuition for in-state undergraduates by 8 percent, cutting millions of dollars worth of programs and eliminating hundreds of jobs. The state's other public colleges and universities reacted similarly.

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