With the recession draining the budgets of soup kitchens and food pantries around the state, Gov. Jon Corzine today said he is working on an emergency proposal to dig up more state funds for organizations that help feed the hungry. But Gov.-elect Chris Christie — who had called for a freeze on new spending before the legislative session ends and he takes office in January — said he is leery about expenditures by the outgoing administration as the state grapples with a projected $8 billion budget deficit.
Though he stressed that his administration will “take care of the least fortunate,” Christie said “there are some good things that government does that we simply cannot afford to do anymore.”
“We’ll look at anything the governor wants to propose. In the end, he’s governor until Jan. 19,” he said. “I implore them not to fall into the bad habits of both Democratic and Republican legislatures of the past during lame duck and to go on a spending spree.”
Corzine and Christie made their comments today during separate pre-Thanksgiving events at soup kitchens and homeless shelters.
While both men pledged to listen to one another on the issue, it was the first public policy disagreement for the former adversaries since they pointedly stopped their criticism after their bitter campaign. The Republican Christie ousted Corzine Nov. 3 after running on a platform of fiscal discipline and painting the Democratic governor as too liberal with the state purse strings.
“There are obviously a lot of people struggling for nutrition and dealing with hunger,” Corzine said after serving meals at Oasis in downtown Paterson. He said “additional help” is needed because food banks are “seeing 50, 60, 70 percent increases in demand.”
Corzine said he can’t simply shift money that’s already been appropriated.
“It will take a legislative action,” he said. “We’re working on some suggestions and we’ll speak to the incoming administration on this, as well.”
Corzine — who had previously told lawmakers he was not planning to seek new spending during the lame-duck legislative session and ordered his cabinet to find $400 million in budget cuts by Tuesday — said he has not determined the precise cost of the emergency needs. New Jersey food-assistance programs got a $2 million increase in the current budget, and the state spent $3 million on food banks as part of an economic recovery plan Corzine approved in late 2008.
Christie, during a visit to St. Lucy’s Shelter in Jersey City, said he had yet to hear from Corzine about the need for more spending, but he remains reluctant to the idea.
“I want to work with everybody on everything, but the fact of the matter is that we have an enormous fiscal crisis,” Christie said. “We’re broke. And it’s getting worse, not better. So I will work with the governor on things that are of absolute necessity, but this is the attitude that continues to get us in trouble.”
Democrats who control both houses of the Legislature also had planned not to approve any new spending before January. Key lawmakers today said they would consider making an exception for Corzine’s proposal, but they did not want it to open the floodgates to other programs.
“The governor has not communicated that to me, and I am not privy to what prompted this change of heart, but I need to weigh all the facts,” said Senate Budget and Appropriations chairwoman Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex).
Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson), a budget committee member and member of Christie’s transition team who joined him at St. Lucy’s, said she hoped for a compromise.
“I think we’ll do what needs to be done,” she said. “I’m trying to work with everyone. It’s not easy.” Star Ledger.