Before New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s meteoric rise into the national spotlight in the GOP presidential candidate race — from which, after a lot of flip-flopping, he withdrew himself — he and New Jersey legislators sparred fiercely, and bitterly, over the state budget. Back in the summer, Christie got his way with a long list of cuts to programs for women’s health, mental health, children and adults with disabilities, and more; 4,000 police officers — many in the state’s crime-ridden capital, Trenton — lost their jobs. The decisiveness with which Christie axed programs and jobs was untrammeled, and quite in contrast to his lollygagging about whether he would enter the GOP race or not.
Now, an after school program for as many as 15,000 low-income children will be closing next week. Three months ago, Christie eliminated all the state funding for the private, nonprofit agency known as NJ After 3. Since 2004, NJ After 3 — which is located in New Brunswick, home of New Jersey’s state university, Rutgers — has given grants to nonprofits including boys and girls clubs and YWCAs for local after school programs In 2007, the program had received a high of $15 million that dwindled down to $3 million last year.
Democrats had tried to restore funding for the program in the summer, only to be pretty much beaten down by Christie. Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, a Democrat who represents Essex County, said allowing the agency to close is an outright tragedy:
“This program has kept children safe and away from gangs and other ill-advised activities. It improved student achievement. It helped working families. It was the best kind of public-private partnership.
“We can’t discuss improving educational outcomes for at-risk children without investing the resources to supplement what happens during the school day.”
NJ After 3′s founding President, Mark Valli, said the agency had simply not been able to raise enough money. The after school programs that remain in New Jersey are struggling to survive, having had to cut enrollment, raise fees and eliminate programs such as arts enrichment.
Not funding after school programs for low-income children was, says Christie, just one of those “tough decisions” a governor has to make:
“We had to make a lot of very difficult decisions and I think programs like that that can be funded through private funds should be encouraged to do so during very difficult tough economic times. That may not have been a choice that I would have otherwise made if we weren’t confronted with the difficult times we’re confronted with, but we are, and so I have to make a lot of very difficult decisions.”
In issuing his budget cuts, Christie had talked about “shared sacrifice” (for some of us, I guess — what about that millionaire’s tax he has twice vetoed?). He has been winning accolades for his “mix of conciliation and civil disagreement” about the Occupy Wall Street protesters. While noting that he doesn’t “happen to agree with a lot of the solutions the Occupy Wall Street guys have,” Christie says he feels their pain; that, indeed, he gets their pain:
“…what I will tell you is, I understand why they’re angry. ‘Cause you look what’s happening in Washington D.C. and it should disgust all of us.”
Looking at what’s been happening in my own state’s capital, it goes without saying that I for one am feeling rather disgusted.
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