Cutting government spending – it’s a refrain many New Jerseyans say they want to hear from their elected officials.
Cue Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex), who announced Dec. 11 that she would run for governor next year and is very familiar with wielding a budget ax.
"I have the experience as Senate Budget Chair of cutting $4.5 billion in spending -- to close the deficit while protecting education and health care," Buono said in her gubernatorial announcement ad on YouTube.
Spending did decrease while Buono chaired the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, but it was not a singular effort..
Let’s look at how budgets work and then explain the $4.5 billion cut.
New Jersey operates on a fiscal year beginning July 1 and ending the following June 30. The governor presents a budget, the Senate Budget and Appropriations and the Assembly Budget committees review it, and public hearings are held.
The committees present the budget in what’s called an annual appropriations bill, which must be approved by the Legislature and the governor. The governor must sign the budget by July 1.
Now, the cuts.
David Rosen, chief budget officer for the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services, confirmed in an e-mail to Buono that appropriations from fiscal year 2008 to fiscal year 2010 dropped by $4.481 billion.
The cuts were made after revenues plummeted by more than $3.5 billion from fiscal year 2008 to 2009, and fell another $1 billion from fiscal year 2009 to fiscal year 2010, according to Richard Keevey, who was budget director for former Gov. Jim Florio. Keevey, who teaches public budgeting systems and federal finance at Rutgers Newark, also served as a deputy budget director and budget director for former Gov. Tom Kean.
"Thus, by necessity, appropriations needed to be reduced by the Governor and the Legislature to achieve a balanced budget as required by the constitution," Keevey said in an e-mail.
So the cuts were made by a combination of people, including former Gov. Jon Corzine.
Christina Zuk, Buono’s chief of staff, said in an e-mail that the senator wasn’t claiming sole responsibility for the cuts.
"In the budget process both bodies of government vote on the final budgets, but the Senator's role as budget chair allowed her to oversee the budget process for those two years and begin to restore some sense of fiscal sanity to the process."
Buono’s chairmanship was an important part of the process, noted Raphael Caprio, a professor of Public Administration in the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.
"The inference is that she has the responsibility because she helped design the cuts," he said. "The fact of the matter is she was an important part of the process but the template was put on the table by the governor. I would basically say there is a core of truth to what she’s saying."
Buono also claimed she protected education and health care while cutting the budget. But it was actually $2 billion in federal stimulus money Corzine included in his fiscal year 2010 budget that protected both. Keevey noted that $1.1 billion of the stimulus went to school aid appropriations. Without it, school aid would have dropped $900 million.
Buono claimed, "I have the experience as Senate Budget Chair of cutting $4.5 billion in spending -- to close the deficit while protecting education and health care."
The nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services confirms a $4.481 billion decrease in spending from fiscal year 2008 to fiscal year 2010. The recession had much to do with the cuts, with revenues plummeting from fiscal year 2008 through fiscal year 2010 and spending adjusted accordingly.
Also, the federal government, not Buono, protected education and health care with $2 billion in stimulus money.
While it’s true that Buono’s chairmanship gave her experience in budget cutting, she alone isn’t responsible for cutting $4.5 billion. It was a team effort. And the last word on cuts, funding and balanced budgets belongs to the governor. For those reasons, we rate her statement Half True.
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