Because of Gov. Jon S. Corzine's controversial proposal to hike tolls on such busy thoroughfares as the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike, this year's state budget crisis is drawing unprecedented attention from beleaguered taxpayers.
The state is mired in red ink and Gov. Corzine is pitching budget cuts of $2.5 billion. However, as the New Jersey Catholic Conference (NJCC) sees it, whatever fiscal remedies are implemented, none should come at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable residents of the Garden State. That is a stance lawmakers cannot and should not ignore. Those in the NJ Statehouse would do well to realize that tough fiscal decisions can be both sound and compassionate.
Last month the Trenton-based NJCC joined forces with Legal Services of New Jersey's Poverty Research Institute and the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey in releasing "Eye on the Budget 2008." The document is the fifth edition of an ongoing analysis of New Jersey's response to the basic needs of citizens that often are marginalized.
As Marlene Lao-Collins, NJCC's director of social concerns, aptly put it: "This is a document we believe will help guide policy makers make sound and compassionate decisions as they consider cuts to the state budget."
Statistics cited by NJCC and the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey illustrate the harsh reality faced by the state's less-fortunate citizens. Using federal guidelines, the statewide poverty rate three years ago was a staggering 8.7 percent. That translates into 738,969 residents living below the poverty line. Using the true cost of living in New Jersey, the groups point out, would make that total "significantly higher."
Most devastating of all, however, is that children are disproportionately impacted by poverty with nearly 12 percent or 251,999 New Jersey children living in poverty. Senior citizens don't fare well either, with 8.5 percent in poverty. Such conditions are no way to begin a life and certainly not a way someone should have to live during the "golden years."
Here in the Archdiocese of Newark, there are strong advocates for those who are less fortunate. One is Kay Furlani, the director of the archdiocesan Office of Human Concerns, who took part in the eighth annual "Anti-Poverty State of the State" conference, held in Trenton last December (see The Catholic Advocate, Dec. 5, 2007).
All too often lawmakers make decisions based on political expedience
rather than compassion. The stakes are too high this year for
business as usual.