This year, the ARC of Atlantic County got $150,000 to help families with disabled members build ramps or buy essential items.
But that funding wasn’t just reduced in the proposed 2011 state budget, it was eliminated.
“That’s gone. Just gone,” ARC Chief Executive Officer Deborah Davis said. “And that directly impacts families. There is a waiting list for that money.”
Gov. Chris Christie talked a lot about shared pain as he presented a proposed budget last month that cuts spending across the board.
But as cuts in school aid and the New Jersey Education Association’s ongoing battle with Christie dominate the media, other agencies are concerned their needs could be overlooked. They have been meeting, organizing and planning to make sure if extra money does become available, it gets spread around and not just given to the biggest and most vocal group.
“We’ve taken some really, really big hits,” said Patricia Tumulty, executive director of the New Jersey Library Association, which is planning a rally May 6 in Trenton. “But no one knows. We lost 74 percent of our state funding. Some (public library) programs will get zero funding.”
Other groups do not begrudge the NJEA its right to protest aid cuts or a proposed wage freeze. But they bristle a bit when the NJEA notes in its publicity that by reinstating the so-called millionaire’s tax on people making more than $400,000 per year, the state could raise all the money needed to fully fund schools.
“Our fight is to balance the pain a little more,” said John Wilson, president and CEO of the state Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, which stands to lose all $17.5 million of its state aid. “About 30 percent of the public school teachers are educated in our schools.”
George Corwell, associate director of education for the New Jersey Catholic Conference, already has contacted legislators about a proposed cut in the state contribution to the meal program in nonpublic schools. With so many cuts proposed, he has been contacting key legislators to make sure his message is heard.
“We have an alert out,” he said. “We stand to lose $439,000 on the meal program. That’s a lot for us. Do nonpublic students eat less? We are making that point.”
The Atlantic County United Way recently held a meeting with its 40 partner agencies to develop a comprehensive campaign.
“We’re putting together a list of all the cuts and how they will affect our partners,” said Fran Wise, director of community investment and partnerships. “We’ll try to start with awareness in the community, then see where we can go from there. We want to be able to give a big picture of the impact of the cuts in the same way schools are a big picture.”
Keith Egan, president and CEO of the South Jersey AIDS Alliance, said proposed cuts in a medication subsidy program could devastate clients.
“It is harder to get attention because there are so many issues,” he said. “There is huge competition for the dollars that are out there, and the pot of dollars is dwindling. But we have a whole different perspective. When we lose money, people die.”
Local legislators say they are aware that cuts affect everyone, and the NJEA will not dominate the upcoming budget discussion.
State Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, is a teacher in Atlantic City whose swim program was cut from the district’s budget for next year. He said he has been criticized for not being more sympathetic to the teachers’ cause, but he also sees the statewide impact.
“I’ve been the subject of the NJEA’s wrath,” he said. “But this is unlike any other budget cycle. Municipalities are facing the same cuts. There are agencies that rely on state grants to operate.”
He said instead of playing a blame game, everyone has to realize that the real problem is declining revenue. He said the millionaire’s tax is likely to come up, and if more money does materialize, it would be spread around.
“People have spoken up at hearings,” he said. “We are absolutely hearing them.”
State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, sits on the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. He said even if money were restored, it would not go to just one place and that everyone would still have to sacrifice. He said property taxpayers still need relief, and Urban Enterprise Zones, libraries and family care are all issues that concern him and his district.
“I don’t think anyone will get lost,” he said of the budget process. “But no one will get all they want.”
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