Beck & O’Scanlon plan: Cuts, caps & restructure

GOP legislators offer alternatives to Corzine’s toll plan


State Sen. Jennifer Beck and Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon suggested “making smart, thoughtful cuts” to the state budget as an alternative to Gov. Jon Corzine’s toll increase plan at a meeting Feb. 21 in Tinton Falls.

State Sen. Jennifer Beck State Sen. Jennifer Beck Beck and O’Scanlon greeted a crowd of about 100 at the Mahala F. Atchison School for a town meeting at which they presented an alternative to Corzine’s widely criticized plan to increase tolls to offset the state budget deficit.

The Republican legislators called for a balanced budget and restructuring pensions and health benefits for state employees.

“I’m really happy to see a crowd out here,” O’Scanlon said during the presentation, which lasted about an hour. “I was going to say I wish it was the 1,000- or 2,000-person crowd that Gov. Corzine got, but hopefully you folks are more friendly than those crowds, and more friendly to our message.”

The smaller crowd was considerably less hostile than the booing, jeering group that met Corzine, a Democrat, during his town hall meeting Feb. 4 inMarlboro.

Corzine’s initial plan calls for tolls on the Garden State Parkway, New Jersey Turnpike and Atlantic City Expressway to be raised by 50 percent every four years for up to 99 years.

“This is the most aggressive form of taxation,” Beck said. “Monmouth, Ocean and Middlesex countieswill foot 40 percent of the bill for this $40 billion of debt.”

During their presentation,Beck andO’Scanlon outlined the financial situation in the state, the possible repercussions that could result from Corzine’s toll increase plan, and outlined some solutions and alternatives.

“Our plan is about cutting spending, capping future spending, and about restructuring the spending that we have,” O’Scanlon said.

They offered a solution to the state’s fiscal crisis in two main parts.

They called for the state government to address the current budget deficit and future state budgets by making cuts and having enforced caps for spending and to restructure pension and healthcare liability through structural changes.

“We need to take a look at this problem in two parts,” Beck said. “The first is our state budget andmaking sure that it’s balanced going forward and that we are only spending what we can afford to spend. And the second is addressing the growing liability in our pension and health benefits.”

This can be accomplished by implementing a flat budget for 2008 and making a series of spending cuts, Beck said.

“Constitutionally,wemustmandate that the state of New Jersey must not spend more revenue than it takes in,” said Beck. “We have a lawin place today that caps state spending at what revenues are brought in and it is overridden each and every year during the budget process … thus the need for the constitutional change. It should be constitutionally mandated that that can not be overridden.”

The possible spending cuts add up to over half a billion dollars and include a two-thirds reduction in “nonessential political personnel,” as well as the elimination of cost-ofliving increases for employees making over $80,000.Other cuts proposed include reducing state vehicles, reducing overtime in the Department of Corrections, raising copayments to $10 for current and retired public employees and repealing both judicial salary increases and the mandatory preschool mandate.

Beck also highlighted the need to adjust pensions and health-care benefits for state employees.

“We simply cannot afford to offer as taxpayers the generous benefits that we have offered in the past,” said Beck.

The pension and benefit reforms add up to a potential savings of $4 billion, according to Beck. The savings could bemade by eliminating health-care and pension benefits for part-time employees who currently only need to make $1,500 to qualify as well as ending “double dipping” by restricting employees to only receiving one pension from one job.

Tinton Falls Councilman Duane Morrill spoke at the meeting and was in agreement over the spending cuts.

“We’re all trying to do more with less,” Morrill said. “Can’t Trenton do the same thing?”

Herman Silbiger, a borough resident,was skeptical of the proposed plan to cut spending.

“Without seeing how an ultimate plan could work, it’s just talk,” Silbiger said.

O’Scanlon responded that there were many details that would be too time-consuming to discuss at the meeting, but that the plans were concrete.

“If you look at the cuts, we come pretty close to $1 billion in suggested cuts and that doesn’t include reforming the school spending, which we have also been very specific about,” O’Scanlon said. “So that’s the plan, now we have to try to get people to pay attention to it and sign on to it,which is started right here tonight.”

ChristopherCast, of Tinton Falls,wanted to know how the governor planned to get around state law that does not allow a nongovernment entity to control state highways.

Beck replied that she also had a lot of questions about the governor’s plan.

Corzine’s plan calls for the creation of a public benefit corporation to run theGarden State Parkway, New Jersey Turnpike and Atlantic City Expressway. The corporation would then increase the tolls and allow the state to borrow against the higher toll revenues, which for

Beck is akin to “paying

off your American Express with a Visa Platinum.”

“Forty billion is the largest borrowing in the United States that has ever happened,” saidBeck. “You probably need some very large, low financed investors to front this money, and it will be many of them. I find it hard to believe it will be all government agencies.”

Tinton Falls Council President Mike Skudera agreed with the cost-cutting ideas proposed by Beck and O’Scanlon.

“The state needs to stop looking for creative ways to tax and start looking for ways to cut spending,” Skudera said. “Since 2000 there have been over 90 newways to tax your money.”

He cautioned that even if the toll increase plan does not work out, the governor might increase other taxes instead.

“Taxes need to stop being raised, spending needs to be cut and that’s the bottomline and you are right on with the message,” Skudera said. “Its time to stop the taxes.”

BobKelly, anOceanport resident, said he agreedwithmost ofwhat he had heard at the meeting.

“I don’t think the governor’s plan is going to fly,” Kelly said. “Flat out, it’s going to fail.”

However, Kelly didn’t think that sending letters or calling the governor would be effective, urging active resistance to the proposed plan.

“They’re not going to listen to us unless we’re there in their face screaming at them,” Kelly said.

Beck agreed that it is important for people to make their voices heard.

“The fact that you’re out here does make a difference, it is one of the reasons why the governor’s plan is failing,”Beck said. “It is because everywhere he’s gone and spoken, the citizens have taken the time to e-mail, to call, to show up and testify.”

O’Scanlon was enthusiastic about the opportunity to make real change.

“We can defeat this, but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” O’Scanlon said.