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TRENTON – Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono and Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Cryan today said Legislative Republicans must start 2011 the right way by taking advantage of the small window they have to reverse course and prove to New Jersey that the concerns of residents actually resonate with the GOP.

At a State House press conference, the leaders ticked through issues where the legislative minority put partisanship and fealty to the Governor before the needs of working families, women and seniors.

“On issue after issue, legislative Republicans have shown only contempt for the challenges facing every day New Jersey, instead embracing out-of-touch ideology that if you give millionaires a bigger tax break, everything will heal itself,” said Buono (D-Middlesex). “Instead, unemployment continues to be too high, too many woman have lost their access to basic health care and people still can’t afford their property taxes. When Democrats offered a hand to help, the Republicans continually smacked it away.”

“As we start the new year, our colleagues across the aisle have a small window of opportunity to prove to New Jersey that they get it, that they were elected not to represent a party but to represent real people,” said Cryan (D-Union). “When you look back at 2010, the Republican storyline was one of following only a rigid ideology of helping those who least needed to be helped. They preached ‘shared sacrifice,’ but then made working families, women and seniors shoulder the burden. And when anything went wrong, they blamed someone else. That’s not the type of leadership New Jersey is looking for.”

Buono and Cryan said Republicans have a chance to start 2011 on the right foot, as the Legislature will be in session later this week to begin passage of the “Back to Work NJ” jobs and business creation package. They said that with unemployment still over 9 percent and the recent news that nearly 330,000 more families rely on food stamps, Republican votes will be under a harsh spotlight.

They noted that some of their colleagues had openly questioned whether the state “could afford” the Democratic-sponsored cuts in business taxes. And they noted that not one Republican legislator spoke ot against Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce’s comments last month deriding the unemployed as “these people,” and insinuating that the unemployed live a good life by not working.

“Republicans have an early chance to show that they do understand the plight of working families and small businesses in a very real sense, not in partisan soundbites,” said Cryan. “It will be interesting to see if they can live up to their own hype of wanting to help get people back into good jobs.”

“Some of our Republican friends have questioned whether we can actually afford to enact a jobs agenda – we contend that we can’t afford not to,” said Buono. “Putting people back to work shouldn’t be a partisan issue. But to the Republicans, it seems more and more that there’s nothing they won’t make into a partisan issue.”

Buono and Cryan said Republican support for “Back to Work NJ” would begin the process of atoning for their many 2010 missteps.

The leaders pointed to the disheartening flip-flop of several Senate Republicans, who supported Democratic-sponsored legislation to restore $7.5 million for women’s health and family planning programs – including cancer screenings. The legislation passed the Legislature with bipartisan support, including seven Republican senators. Weeks later, the seven Republicans reversed course, dooming an attempt to override a gubernatorial veto and literally shutting the doors for several woman’s health centers.

“The failure of the Senate Republican Seven to stick to their convictions when they knew the Governor was wrong was shocking and appalling,” said Buono. “When women in New Jersey most needed their legislative advocates to stuck to their guns, their hopes evaporated. Now, there are fewer places for women to get essential health services.”

Buono and Cryan also noted the Republicans’ failure to stand up for New Jersey seniors. Despite voicing private misgivings – forcing the Governor to send top deputies to the Senate and Assembly floors to oversee the voting – every Republican member voted to provide millionaires with a massive tax break instead of guaranteeing property tax rebates for seniors. Instead, seniors have only been given a shallow promise of a credit good only for one-quarter of their prior rebate (roughly $300) and it would only be given in March. The Republicans also stood in support of eliminating an average of $2400 annually in additional financial help for spouses of the elderly and disabled under the state Supplemental Security Income program.

“For seniors, the Republican cuts have been some of the unkindest,” said Cryan. “Instead of helping seniors stay in their homes, our Republican colleagues decided to give millionaire’s a huge tax cut so they could decorate theirs. Something is awfully wrong when shared sacrifice means cutting only from those who have the least.”

The Democrats also noted the Republicans’ deafening silence on the constant cuts that put schools and towns in even more dangerous financial straits – as evidenced by the inability of some towns to have the manpower and equipment needed to deal with last week’s blizzard. Those cuts pushed property taxes up even further, as towns and schools were left with no other options to make ends meet even after cutting budgets to the bone.

And they recalled the aftermath of the state’s failure to win $400 million in the federal Race to the Top competition, when the failure to provide necessary information for one question doomed the application. In response, Republicans sought to pin the blame on everyone – including, amazingly, the President – but themselves.

“When middle-class New Jersey needed champions, Democrats stood up and Republicans went on vacation,” said Buono. “It’s time the legislative Republicans understood that they serve the people who sent them here. Right now, they act as if they only have a constituency of one.”

“There can be no do-overs, but Republicans have a chance to show residents that they now actually understand what’s going on in the real world,” said Cryan. “We and New Jersey’s working families, women and seniors will all be watching closely to see if they can change their stripes.”