New Jersey lawmakers agreed to transfer $44 million into a special account for distressed cities, despite objections from Republicans, including incoming Gov. Chris Christie.
The transfer approved Monday by the Joint Budget Operating Committee paves the way for another agency, the Local Finance Board, to distribute the money — along with $72 million already on hand — to five cities that requested special help.
The Local Finance Board is scheduled to meet Wednesday.
Camden would get $67 million in aid; Paterson, $27 million; Jersey City, $14 million; Union City, $11.3 million; and Bridgeton, $2.25 million.
Also Monday, the Assembly approved a bill that would return most Camden city operations to local control. The state has been overseeing financial affairs of the impoverished city since 2002. The bill would return broad control over the city's day-to-day operations to the city's elected mayor. The Senate is scheduled to consider the bill.
Last week, the city installed a new mayor, former state Sen. Dana Redd.
Christie, who takes office Jan. 19, reacted angrily to the monetary transfer, accusing Gov. Jon Corzine of spending money the state doesn't have on his way out the door. Christie said cities need to learn to budget responsibly, not expect annual bailouts from the state.
"I object to the Corzine administration shoveling money out the door at the eleventh hour when they realize what the state's fiscal condition is," Christie said. "Special extraordinary municipal aid is the biggest misnomer in state government you can find. When you give it every year, it's neither special or extraordinary."
Christie said the joint budget committee's approval brings the state $44 million closer to insolvency.
The governor-elect did not rule out stopping the checks after he takes office.
"I will consider every option on the table once I get there, but I'm not going to telegraph my punch," Christie said.
Treasury spokesman Tom Vincz said the current budget remains balanced — with a surplus of about $500 million — with the Corzine-authorized transfer taken into account.
Also, Susan Jacobucci, director of Local Government Services for the Department of Community Affairs, said that without the aid, the cities could be forced to lay off police and firefighters, putting residents at risk, and would be in danger of losing federal aid.
Department spokesman Edwin Carman said the fund was intended to offset expenses, and thus give property tax relief, to cities in fiscal distress. He said the aid allows the municipalities to continue to provide essential services.
He said the aid comes with strict oversight and all towns that receive it are required to sign a memorandum of understanding.
Assemblyman Joseph Malone, a Republican on the joint budget committee, said he would suggest that Christie seek the resignations of finance board members who approve the distribution of the aid.
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