It’s too bad that most New Jerseyans are not feeling the same way toward their state government that Anne Murray feels in the lyric from “Danny’s Song”: “Even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with you honey.” But even love would not solve the fiscal crisis New Jersey is in and overcome the financial hurdles that lie ahead. Some of those hurdles are likely to affect Rider directly.
Take a stroll down memory lane and more likely than not you will remember asking mom and dad for an advance on your allowance. New Jersey’s political leaders have been doing that for years in complex schemes of borrowing and re-borrowing to cover the shortfalls in the state budget. It’s been a technique used by our elected leaders to avoid tightening the purse strings and making the tough decisions that will undoubtedly anger voters. But the bottom line is that the state is broke and has been spending beyond its means for a very long time.
Most of us don’t need an accounting degree to understand that a problem arises when there is more money going out than coming in. We all know what happens when we charge up a storm on our credit card to pay for that shopping spree that netted us a new pair of Pumas or an argyle sweater. Eventually, the bill comes in the mail and — as painful as it is — we have to fork over the money. It’s a lesson that Gov. Jon Corzine took into consideration as he unveiled his budget for the 2009 fiscal year this past Tuesday.
Rightfully, the governor’s proposal takes a firm grip of the state’s wallet. The nearly $33 billion budget for 2009 reduces spending by $500 million. More importantly, it does not call for the increase of existing taxes or the development of new ones to pay for the state’s operations. You may be scratching your head wondering how the governor has held the line on spending. To save more than $350 million, the budget eliminates 5,000 government jobs and continues the hiring freeze. If all goes as outlined, three departments will also be eliminated. Clearly, these are measures that will take their toll on families who have a breadwinner working in the government, and on college seniors trying to break into state politics.
“It’s certainly not a budget designed to please,” Corzine said. “I can tell from the applause lines, but it is a prudent blueprint to meet difficult economic circumstances, correct past mistakes and it lays a foundation for a responsible future.”
At this point in the column, some students may stop reading, perhaps out of a lack of interest in New Jersey’s fiscal state. Others will read on, bearing the bad news and realizing that what goes on in Trenton will affect them now or in the very near future. Living in a veil of ignorance is certainly easy to do in our bubble at Rider, but the time will come sooner rather than later for some of us when we have to start paying property taxes. So before you stick your head back into that psychology book in preparation for that midterm, or sit at your computer to type your paper, you should make an earnest attempt to understand what’s on the chopping block in this year’s budget. It hits a lot closer to home than you think.
Compared to the budget for 2008, funding to higher education will be slashed by $76 million if Corzine has his way. Private colleges and universities — like Rider — stand to lose 10 percent in funding. That is a reduction of $2 million statewide. Doing research on our final projects could also get more difficult as the funding to the New Jersey Knowledge Initiative, which gives us access to EBSCO databases and scholarly references, is lowered. In fact, the cuts could lead to the shutdown of the reference service as soon as today.
Nonetheless, Corzine faces scrutiny for his plan to pay down the $32 billion debt the state has accumulated by increasing tolls on the major roadways. There has to come a time when we all accept the harsh reality that exists. But, if you are going to hurl criticisms at the governor and his proposal, it is only fair to propose alternatives. Students are heading into a job market and into positions where they will confront the message Gov. Corzine had: “Frankly, New Jersey has a government its people cannot afford.”
Written By Opinion Editor, Jamie Papapetros