When the New Jersey budget was finalized back in June, hundreds of so-called Christmas tree items worth more than $2 billion were added to the spending plan that was eventually signed by Gov. Phil Murphy.

This practice of handing out politically motivated financial gifts has become a tradition in the Garden State, but one lawmaker is pushing a plan to change things.

According to state Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cumberland, the time has come to restore integrity and fairness to the spending process in New Jersey.

Lucidology GettyImages
Lucidology GettyImages

It's unfair, he says

“I just really don’t believe that South Jersey gets her fair share of state spending, especially when it comes to all of the pork that is in our state budget,” Testa said.

He pointed out that the Fiscal Year 2023 spending plan includes a $300 million handout to Rutgers University, “which includes a $100 million donation, as I’ll call it, to renovate the basketball facility and to start work on an indoor football practice facility.’

He said other allocations include:

🎄 $7 million for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center

🎄$5 million for the Cherry Blossom Center in Branch Brook

🎄$4.6 million for a park in North Bergen

🎄$4 million for Union County’s Clark Reservoir

🎄$3.6 million for the visiting Lambert Castle Visitors Center in Patterson

🎄$3 million for the Brick City Peace Collective in Newark

elise_kurenbina GettyImages
elise_kurenbina GettyImages

Make it transparent

Testa said he’s not claiming these payments aren’t for worthy causes but they “need to be far more transparent, competitive and merit-base. What we’ve seen out of Trenton is backroom deals that are secretive, arbitrary and unfair.”

He said it’s very unfortunate that “all of this additional Christmas tree spending seems to happen in North Jersey, and South Jersey goes largely ignored.”

He’s introduced 3 measures designed to level the playing field:

👉 S3388 redirects the $300 million special line item for capital projects at Rutgers to a grant program run by the Commission on Higher Education that would be open to all public and private higher education institutions as well as vocational schools.

👉 S3386 would redirect approximately $356 million in special local government line itemsto a grant program run by the Commissioner of DCA that would be open to all local government

👉 S3287 would redirect approximately $22 million of eight line-items awarded to arts and cultural organizations to a grant program run by the Secretary of State that would be open to all arts and cultural organizations.

Testa said it’s essential to restore trust in how government operates in Jersey.

“The public is highly cynical of the processes that take place under the gold dome in Trenton, and I just want government to be transparent and accountable, and I don’t see how anyone can really argue against that," he said.

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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