three days, three hearings. Twice in the Senate Budget Committee, once in the Assembly Budget Committee.
Rather than regurgitate all of the facts and figures that were thrown around, I will highlight some of the standout moments.
The Senate heard from George Hayman, the Corrections Commissioner. Apparently, a goal of his is to reduce overtime costs for his officers by cutting back hours. In fact, Corrections is not subject to mandatory state worker furloughs because that would actually incur more overtime. Who said temporary layoffs would save money?
But the stat he gave which jumped out at me was that in these tough fiscal times, the state spends $39,000 per inmate per year. Wow. That is indeed a a lot of money, and there are 25,000 inmates. Half of all offenders are violent, which means the other half are not. NJ now has drug courts in every county to deal with some of those non-violent drug offenders, but Democratic Senator Shirley Turner seemed to be making the case with her questioning that the state needs to do better in terms of locking people up who would be better served with treatment.
Heather Howard, the Commissioner of Health & Senior Services testified that the state will maintain charity care at current levels. That is reimbursing hospitals for the cost of treating the uninsured. NJ currently spends $600 million for the billion that is spent each year, and the feds pay half of that. She didn’t have too many answers for why so many hospitals are closing. The Governor’s Commission on Rationalizing Health Care Resources concluded in its report last year that there are too many hospital beds in NJ, and some facilities would have to close. There were 14 closure applications submitted in 2008. But even if some need to shut their doors, people have great anxiety about it happening in their community.
Anne Milgram the state’s Attorney General came under fire from Repubs on why her budget for hiring outside counsel jumped to $26 million last year from $20 million the year before. Republican Senator Kevin O’Toole suggested that did not make a lot of sense since in-house attorneys make $80 an hour, and outside counsel charges up to $500 per hour. Milgram responded that like other departments, Law & Public Safety has had to make do with fewer resources. The number of attorneys is down about 25%, and the number of state troopers is also down…ideal number is 3300, right now there are 3000.
So, it does beg the question did all those early retirement plans enacted by the Governor result in a savings for the state?
I suppose the answer in the agregate is: yes. But in some cases, work that still needs to get done now gets done at greater expense to taxpayers.