Surprise skirmish with ex-Gov. McGreevey over prisoner re-entry funding
Last year, lawmakers added $5 million to New Jersey’s budget to support prisoner re-entry programs coordinated by Volunteers of America and the New Jersey Reentry Corporation.
Gov. Chris Christie included no funding for them in the proposed budget for the coming year – and though it could still be added back, some Democrats seem tired of the political machinations.
Maybe it was just that after eight and a half hours of public hearings by the Assembly Budget Committee, another six hours of testimony had just gotten underway Wednesday in Lodi. Or perhaps it’s a sign of friction ahead, as lawmakers haggle over Christie’s final budget.
But Assemblyman Gary Schaer, D-Passaic, dispensed with the niceties as former Gov. James McGreevey asked for funding cut from his reentry nonprofit program not only be restored, but expanded.
McGreevey complimented Christie for his support for the initiative. Schaer said that’s not rational, given the cuts proposed in Christie’s budget.
“This is one of the few nonpartisan issues in American life,” McGreevey said.
“Trust me, governor, this is not a nonpartisan issue,” Schaer said. “This is a very partisan issue. Very partisan issue.”
After a few beats of uncomfortable silence, McGreevey responded: “Allow me to continue my own mirage, chairman.”
Prisoner re-entry programs help reduce recidivism rates – and cost a fraction of what it costs to incarcerate someone in state prison. McGreevey estimated the cost of the Reentry Corporation program at $2,200 per person and said a year of incarceration in New Jersey costs $47,000 or more.
Schaer pressed McGreevey for details about why Christie would reduce the funding, given the cost savings and apparent success of the program. McGreevey said it would be presumptuous for him to say.
“They made whatever decisions they made in terms of budgetary approach. The governor has continued to be strongly supportive of our program,” McGreevey said.
“Except when it comes to getting the money,” Schaer said.
“This is the budget committee,” Schaer said, returning to the theme at the end of McGreevey’s testimony. “So we’re really not interested in your protestations of affection, but rather the facts of the money.”
The state’s current budget includes $2.5 million for the Reentry Corporation to provide programs in Essex, Hudson, Passaic and Union counties, as well as $2.5 million to VOA for programs in South Jersey.
Both were reduced to zero in Christie’s budget proposal. Republicans on the budget committee said they’d support restoring the funding and predicted Christie – who is scheduled to attend the NJRC’s annual Reentry Conference on April 13 in Jersey City – would support it.
McGreevey asked that the state’s appropriation to the NJRC be more than doubled to $5.5 million, so it can expand its services to Bergen, Union, Middlesex, Monmouth and Somerset counties.