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(MONTCLAIR) – Assembly Democratic Budget Committee members released the following statements Wednesday as the panel convened its second public hearing on Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed state budget, focusing on the issues of education, higher education and local government:

Assembly Budget Chairman Lou Greenwald (D-Camden):
“The Governor’s first two budget proposals have sent a clear message that he is not interested in investing in New Jersey’s public education system. He has ignored his statutory requirements and decreased direct aid to schools by over $2 billion below what our school funding formula requires. Teachers have been laid off, classroom sizes have expanded, and activity fees have been imposed for what used to be routine services and programs. The next two months will be about rolling up our sleeves and fighting to ensure that middle class and working families do not continue bearing this burden while the Governor chips away at their children’s future.”

Assembly Budget Vice Chairman Gary S. Schaer (D-Passaic/Bergen/Essex):
“Again municipalities are going to be struggling to deliver critical services. The past year saw massive layoffs in police, firefighters, teachers and other essential personnel. With a $10 million proposed decrease in total municipal aid, we can only expect more of the same drastic measures as towns struggle to stay below the two percent cap. Our mission over the next few months is to craft a budget that distributes the burden equitably, rather than on the backs of those who can least afford it.”

Assembly Appropriations Chairwoman Nellie Pou (D-Passaic/Bergen):
“By proposing a $117 million cut in higher education funding and eliminating last year’s tuition cap, the Governor is essentially bracing students for a hike in costs to attend college next year. We can’t just slash aid to colleges and not expect someone to have to absorb these operating costs. This is a time when we should be encouraging students to attend college so they can get a leg up in this challenging economy.”

Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland):
“Sadly, the Governor is pitting seniors and the disabled against dedicated public workers in order to get his way on employee health benefit changes. The Governor claims he is doubling funding for property tax rebates next year. Yet, in the current year rebates are budgeted at $268 million, but the increase to supposedly double them is only $190 million. This is just more questionable rhetoric and broken campaign promises while our most vulnerable struggle to get by.”

Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-Essex):
“The administration is touting a $190 million decrease in statewide local spending as proof that the Governor’s property tax plans are working. But they are ignoring the fact that statewide local spending includes state aid, which was slashed by $1.5 billion, meaning property taxpayers had to make up much of this difference. The result is a 4.1 percent increase in property tax bills, the highest since 2007. This hearing has made it clear that we have our work cut out for us if we hope to reverse the Governor’s oppressive policies.”

Assemblywoman Joan Quigley (D-Bergen/Hudson):
“Some of our neediest students, and their families, rely on the NJ After 3 program for added help to get ahead in life. Once again, the Governor is trying to balance his budget on the backs of the working poor by proposing to eliminate funding for this program in its entirety. We need to continue to fight, like we did last year, to get at least a portion of this funding restored.”

Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer):
“This budget shows little regard for the plight of some of our most struggling cities by slashing special aid. Trenton, for example, has seen progress hampered by a lack of ratables because the biggest property owner – the state – is only obligated to pay a fraction of the taxes owed. Our capital city hosts state offices, provides services to assist our operations, and yet the Governor has responded to this hospitality by cutting over $40 million in direct state aid the last two years in a row.”