What happens when two people play a game? Someone wins and someone loses.
What happens when fiscal policy appears to be responsible and necessary for the public good, but it isn't? You guessed it, people suffer. Who suffers the most? Right again, the people who are the least mobile, both financially and socially, to combat poor public policy.
Here in New Jersey, we're known for a lot of things. But one thing that we share with the rest of the nation is the poor fiscal condition our state is in. Spending habits of previous leadership has taken us to a point in our state's fiscal history where we can no longer afford to fund vital programs and initiatives as we once use to. Tax increases designed to meet budgetary requirements have encouraged citizens to move elsewhere. In 2009 came the New Jersey's new sheriff who promised to get the state back its fiscal footing... too bad many of the people continue to tread a slippery slope.
When asked about what he'd do about the economic hardships plaguing minorities and the poor, President Obama responded with the phrase, a rising tide will lift all boats, meaning that the economic conditions of the poor, many of whom are black and brown folk, will change with the economic improvement of our nation. But what happens when some people have a hole in their boat? Common sense says that a sinking boat will continue to sink even in a rising tide; although the boat has risen with the tide, it is still underwater... this is the fallacy of trickle-down economics, but I digress.
I make a mention of that to say that many people in the state of New Jersey try to navigate through shark-filled waters with boats that have holes in them. While fiscal policies recently put in place may have come from the "right place," they don't always have the right outcomes. There are a lot of things that could be pointed out that Governor Christie has done in his crusade to "save" New Jersey, one of those things being the health benefit and pension reform bill he just signed into law. But I want to take a look at the state budget for FY 2010-2011 that will be coming to an end on June 30, 2011 and consider the impact that budget has had on the city of Camden.
The state has failed the city of Camden many times before; the most recent was the legislation that allocated $175 million to the city for renewal and economic development -- that money primarily served institutions within the city and not the people. Governor Christie's 2010-2011 budget had a lot of cuts; many going to entitlement programs, education and social services. Now I admit, the governor had a very tough job: balancing the state budget. That is no small feat; then Governor Corzine shut down the government due to a failure in balancing the budget. Governor Christie made significant inroads that will help NJ get back on track fiscally... whether or not I agree with his methods for fiscal recovery isn't important; what I will argue however is that the effect of fiscal policy intended to restore order to the state's finances comes at the cost of the middle class and the poor.
Spending cuts have hit places like Camden City hard. One of the first casualities of spending cuts was the city libraries. Before the libraries closed, there were only three in the entire city; a city of 79,000+ with 26% of residents who are in school -- preK to 12. The budget cuts left Camden with only one library and that library is only open due to the county's consolidation of resources allowing the library to be taken over.
The next casualty was the city's fire and police force. Camden has been labeled the one of the most violent cities in the country for the past five to 10 years. Prior to the budget cuts, Camden had a police force of 375 people -- for roughly 79,000. Now the force is more like 200. The fire department saw one third of its force slashed. The result has been more fires, more shootings and more deaths. Last week a nine-year-old boy was shot in the head, in a major drug trafficking area -- he was caught in the crossfire of a dispute. He is currently in a coma and he is expected to lose his sight. Saturday night (July 2), another building was destroyed in a fire, the fourth major fire in less than a month. The victim this time was an entrepreneur and homeowner who lost both her store and her home in a matter of minutes.
According to the Courier-Post, with respect to the 2011-2012 budget -- $46.5 million was cut from state tuition aid grants, $50 million the Democrats added to help cities and towns hire police officers and firefighters was cut, $7.5 million added for family-planning services and $3 million restored for New Jersey After three after-school programs were also cut. These cuts impact the poor and middle-class... the governor would argue these cuts are necessary for state to be fiscally responsible and functional. I would argue that budget cuts, even cuts that seem necessary, have side effects. Whenever I get a prescription, the first thing that I do before I take it, is read the patient medical information because on that leaflet are the side effects of the medication. I do that so that, at the very least, I know what I am getting myself into -- at the very most, I can change my medication.
When it comes to his fiscal policy, I am not sure if the governor read about the side effects; I know that Chris Christie isn't going to change this fiscal policy but I am not even sure if he, at the very least, knows what he got himself into.
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