The downgrading of the Nation’s credit rating from “AAA” to “AA+” will further complicate the struggle to balance state budgets across the nation. The emotional “tug of war” to “do more with less” will become more trying than ever. Opposing sides on economic and administrative issues will question whether their agenda has a possibility of success, thus exacerbating the confusion among conflicting viewpoints.
In New Jersey, Mixed leadership at the inter-party and intra-party levels has created confusion and complications in the battle to serve the State’s most vulnerable citizens. Some legislators from both sides of the aisle have described the disagreements as a simple debate over the efficacy of our most recently ratified budget and its impact on social services. Most Republicans argue that the budget is sound and reasonable, explaining that “we cannot spend money that we do not have”. Democrats insist that the budget and cuts in many programs leave those in need in a precarious situation that they may never climb out of.
Passionate debate over healthcare programs for women, children, and families, and educational and vocational programs for children with disabilities have created divisions along party lines and within them. Republican Joe Kyrillos, whose leadership has led to his being mentioned as a possible U.S. Senate candidate, has supported the Governor’s cuts as a step toward responsible government. State Senator Thomas Kean concurs with Kyrillos’s sentiments. State Senate President Steve Sweeney, however, has argued that the line-item cuts were made without consulting him and other legislative leaders.
Infighting within the Democratic Party became acute with Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver sponsoring the Governor’s Pensions and Benefits Reform Package, despite opposition from many fellow party leaders. The controversy continues with Sweeney, Oliver, and Senator Donald Norcross losing significant labor endorsements and their accompanying financial contributions. The inner–party squabbles are further magnified by the need for the warring legislators to establish common ground in light of the upcoming election.
In a year in which New Jersey will re-elect the entire State Legislature, including forty Senators and eighty members of the Assembly, disparate and inconsistent messages have emanated from lawmakers. Many have chosen sides, declaring themselves as the defenders of the rights of taxpayers, or middle class workers, or public employees, or inner city schools, or suburban communities, or women and families, or people with disabilities. Perhaps the only true agreement is that New Jersey is engaged in difficult fiscal times, with no clear suggestion that the economy will improve any time soon. Unfortunately, the conflicting messages continue.
One legislator who has been consistent with her message throughout her service as a public official is State Senator Barbara Buono. She has employed her leadership skills in attempting to maintain the protections and services that New Jerseyans are losing with the ratification of the current Budget. She also has employed her interpersonal skills in convincing the State’s vulnerable citizens that she is not abandoning them.
Buonohas been critical of Governor Chris Christie’s line item cuts to the 2011-2012 State Budget. According to Buono, the cuts are “mean-spirited and retaliatory. He once again shortchanges our schools even though he claims he restored the nearly billion dollars in cuts he made last year. Not true.”
Buono authored “Anti-Bullying” legislation, and has worked to protect New Jersey citizens by sponsoring a bill that restricts “predatory lending”. In addition she has authored legislation designed to provide comprehensive health care for children. As a fighter in favor of a budget that will truly serve all New Jerseyans, Buono has been vocal about the Governor’s budget constraints. However, the Senator has indicated that we must cut wasteful spending as part of a budget reform process. Nevertheless, she maintains that too many vulnerable citizens are left without protections and services with the Governor’s current budget.
Buono has suggested that the Governor has “cut the Non-partisan Office of Legislative Services because they dared to disagree with his revenue projections. So he is seeking to silence the only truly objective check and balance on his unbridled power. He cut what we restored to TAG grants for college students and then cut an additional $25 million!” Buono further describes the Governor’s budget as “vindictive and just plain wrong”. Her demonstration of leadership has led to her being discussed as a possible gubernatorial candidate in 2012. Despite a rocky political road ahead, Barbara Buono will not abandon New Jersey’s vulnerable citizens.
The future will offer nothing but trying times for both political parties and legislators with varying missions and agendas. The State budget deficit will rise next year and for the immediate future, with “decision making” becoming an exercise in futility. The need for true “shared sacrifices” may become a reality.