By Valerie Vainieri Huttle, The Record
WITH MUCH of the conversation in Trenton over the last month revolving around the impending bankruptcy of the Transportation Trust Fund, relatively overlooked was Governor Christie's late-night maneuvering in the waning hours of June.
Just before midnight on June 30, Christie issued an executive order freezing $250 million in funding for critical programs – the likes of which aid abused children, domestic violence and rape victims and cancer research – until an unelected, unaccountable committee can find a way to save that much money on employee health benefit costs.
These programs run the gamut when it comes to serving the most vulnerable.
Project S.A.R.A.H. (Stop Abusive Relationships At Home) and CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) serve victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, and abused and neglected children, respectively. Women's Services supports non-profits that provide domestic violence and rape-prevention services. Boys and Girls Clubs serve at-risk youth, and the Educational Opportunity Fund provides financial assistance and support services to college students from educationally and economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The New Jersey Commission on Cancer Research and the Cancer Institute of New Jersey are on a mission for life-saving cures.
The most disturbing aspect of this situation is the complete and utter disregard the governor has displayed for the human casualties of his decision. This indicates a serious disconnect with the struggles of everyday New Jerseyans.
Many of the constituents that benefit from these programs the governor excised have come before the Assembly Human Services Committee with heartbreaking pleas for assistance, pleas that did not fall on deaf ears when we crafted the Democratic budget this year. That is, until it arrived at the governor's desk.
With the stroke of a pen, the governor told these constituents: You are not worthy.
What makes this 11th-hour maneuvering all the more shameful is the governor's disingenuous nature. When issuing his executive order freezing funding, he chided the Legislature for not heeding his call to implement $250 million in health care savings. Yet, throughout the months-long budget hearing process, his administration failed to detail how they would achieve these cost savings. The Assembly Budget Committee questioned the departments of Treasury, Health, and Banking and Insurance on the matter and all three were unable to provide our committee with any tangible proposals for how they hoped to implement these savings.
Rather than showing up in Trenton, rolling up his sleeves and meeting with legislators and public employee representatives to forge a solution, the governor chose to bark vague orders from the campaign trail and then punish everyone in his path when these nebulous directives were not included in the final budget.
This is all part of his continual, misguided quest to punish public workers. He wants to saddle public employees with the burden of absorbing $250 million in health care costs while arbitrarily punishing some of the most vulnerable residents in New Jersey.
Not only is this a dereliction of duty on the part of the governor and his administration, but his endgame maneuvering is a serious overstep of power that imperils countless programs that provide real help to some of our most vulnerable residents.
Valerie Vainieri Huttle is a Democratic assemblywoman representing the 37th Legislative District in Bergen County.