BY TOM HESTER SR.
State Senate Democratic leaders announced on Thursday that they will begin trying on Monday to override the nearly $1 billion in vetoes made by Gov. Chris Christie last week before he signed the new $29.7 billion 2011-12 state budget.
"This is about priorities,” Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-Gloucester) told reporters at the Statehouse. “This is about what is important to people."
The Democrats, who control the upper house by a 24 to 16 margin, especially want to restore cuts to social welfare and public safety programs but they will need the support of at least three Republicans to successfully override any veto, something that is unlikely to happen.
The Democrats charge that Christie’s vetoes went beyond funding concerns and were vindictive.
"It's like taking hostages and shooting them just to prove a point," Sweeney said.
In addition to the Monday session, Sweeney said the Senate will hold one or two sessions during the summer to seek additional overrides. He did not specify which vetoes he wants to attempt to override.
On Wednesday, Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-Essex) announced the Democratic-controlled lower house also will hold summer sessions to seek override votes but the dates have not been announced.
Reacting to Sweeney’s announcement, Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R- Union) said, “We would not be here if the majority had chosen to negotiate a balanced budget with the governor and legislative Republicans rather than use the budget process to make a political statement. A bi-partisan, negotiated budget worked perfectly well last year.
Kean said, “Overriding a governor's veto should be a thoughtful decision that is used sparingly by the Legislature, not as a tool to churn political fodder for the fall campaign. The majority's never ending use of this extraordinary tool shows that they are more concerned about political theater than the actual outcome.
“Finding common ground was possible just a few weeks ago on pension and benefits reform, and there was no reason it couldn't have been found on the budget without anyone abandoning their principles,” Kean added.
Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer (D-Essex) called Christie’s elimination of funding for an Essex County shelter for abused children an example of his misplaced priorities.
The governor eliminated $537,000, or roughly 75 percent, of the funding for the Wynona M. Lipman Child Advocacy Center in Newark, which serves children who have been sexually and physically abused.
“This cut by the governor shows a callous indifference to the plight of some of our most vulnerable,” Spencer said. “This center has been a beacon of hope for thousands of children who have been subjected to unimaginable horrors. I don’t blame the Governor for refusing to defend his cuts because many, like this one, are indefensible.
The center serves more than 1,000 Essex children each year by providing a central location for law enforcement, mental health professionals and medical and child welfare professionals to treat victims and assist their families. Spencer said in doing so, the center estimates that it saves the state roughly $1,000 per case as a result of service coordination and specialized training.
“This is an outstanding organization that provides invaluable services to abused children and their families,” Spencer said. “The governor’s priorities are clearly misplaced if he is going to claim that we can’t afford this, while giving tax breaks to millionaires and sitting on a very healthy surplus.”