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(TRENTON) — Remarks, as prepared, of Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Lou Greenwald (D-Camden) at the start of Wednesday’s Assembly Budget Committee hearing:

“Good morning and welcome everyone to today’s Assembly Budget Committee hearing. Before we start hearing from you, the public, I would just like to take a few minutes to discuss how we will be moving ahead to solve this fiscal year’s budget shortfall.

“I was pleased this morning to hear Gov. Christie acknowledge what we’ve been saying all along — that he does in fact require legislative approval to resolve the budget shortfall.

“We fully realize that spending cuts are in order.

“The Assembly Budget Committee has for many years now developed a reputation for challenging departments to cut spending and I can assure you that will continue.

“But with the Governor’s acknowledgement that he must work with the Legislature, we hopefully can at least now move forward in a bipartisan way to devise budget cuts that don’t — as the Governor’s plan would do — place a heavy and undue burden onto our property taxpayers, commuters and hard-working middle-class and the poor residents.

“Gov. Christie’s plan to strip $475 million from our schools will, quite simply, drive up property taxes.

“To say otherwise shows a lack of understanding, as school district surpluses are to be either returned to property taxpayers as relief or used to offset future property tax hikes.

“Hard-earned money from property taxpayers was not supposed to be unilaterally taken by any governor to balance the state budget.

“Property taxes are the leading concern of New Jerseyans and Gov. Christie’s move will just exacerbate that worry.

“After all, it was my Republican friends who just last December, when then-Gov. Corzine offered the same plan, said taking aid ‘from only those districts operating with a surplus is tantamount to punishing those who have planned and budgeted efficiently,’ and then added, ‘We can no longer rely on dipping into the taxpayers’ pockets to balance the books.’

“As move forward, this must be done in a transparent process that involves the open debate and discussion that the public deserves. That is when our democracy works best.

“Based on the governor’s acknowledgement today, this debate is now even more important.

“Today’s Assembly Budget Committee hearing will give the Governor’s plan the public debate it has lacked, and I look forward to more discussion in the weeks ahead.”

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