The passage of the Pension and Health Benefits Reform bill by both houses of the New Jersey State Legislature, immediately referred to by Governor Christie as a bi-partisan initiative, did not end the partisan standoff between the political parties, and between the Democratic lawmakers and the Governor.
The Democratic leadership has offered a $30 billion dollar budget that Governor Christie has called a “pie in the sky” initiative. Part of the issue is the number of additional and unexpected tax revenue dollars that the Governor will certify as available for the next fiscal year. The Democrats have asserted that $800 million additional and unexpected dollars have been found to top off the new budget. Christie, however, has announced that the total number of new dollars is no more than $500 million. The Governor maintains that the total number of available dollars for 2011-20012 is no more than $29,640,697,000, not the $30 billion dollars that the Democrats propose.
One legislator who has been critical of the Administration’s cuts in social services is Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36, Bergen/Passaic). Christe’s cuts, especially in Medicaid funding, have elicited public responses by Assemblyman Schaer in recent weeks. The Assemblyman has stated that the Governor’s budget planning has caused him to be “very troubled by this proposal …..It's not government's role to be charity, but it is government's role to provide opportunity. We're taking it away. They can barely survive now."
Schaer serves in the Assembly as Chair of the Committee on Financial Institutions and Insurance, Vice-Chair of the Budget Committee, and as a member of the Special Committee on Economic Development, and the Committee on State Government. During his three terms in the legislature, Schaer has built a track record by sponsoring initiatives that support programs for children and adults with disabilities, particularly children with Autism.
The reaction by Schaer and other Democratic lawmakers to funding cuts in programs for those in need has been significant. Democratic legislators maintain that by denying care to the State’s most vulnerable residents, the results will be more costly by requiring charity care or welfare for these uninsured individuals. Assemblyman Schaer has suggested that the Governor’s proposal was born in a “moral vacuum”.
The position of some lawmakers has changed in recent days, as several Republican legislators, who previously had refused to disagree with the Governor, now appear ready to support initiatives that will provide support for New Jersyans in need. Christie’s proposal would leave twenty-three thousand current Medicaid patients without health services.
In any case, Gary Schaer is determined that the vulnerable members of our society, especially those who rely on Medicaid to receive medical services, cannot be abandoned. As he mentioned a few weeks ago, “This plan is both lacking in conscience and details. From what little we’ve been able to ascertain from the administration, it’s clear that they are once again intent on balancing our budget on the backs of our neediest residents.”
The Pension and Health Benefits Reform battle may be over, but the skirmish over care for the poor and vulnerable is just beginning. Governor Christie must recognize that Assemblyman Gary Schaer will not go away quietly.