The Assembly Budget Committee held its first public hearing Wednesday on Governor Chris Christie's budget proposal for New Jersey.

The focus was funding for health, human services, senior, family and children's issues.

There was overall support for Christie's proposal from those representing New Jersey's mentally and developmentally disabled. They were pleased it provides tens of millions of dollars in new funding.

However, Tom Baffuto, Executive Director for The Arc of New Jersey, said an area that has been overlooked is the providers of services. Community provider agencies would be the ones called upon to serve the 775 new individuals funded in the Governor's budget proposal, on top of the thousands of others already receiving services.

Baffuto said there's been no increase for providers in four years.

"Staff salaries, health benefits, fuel costs - all of these things have been going up, and there's been no increase to address them," Buffato explained.

He, along with Arc President Walter Bender, called for a three percent increase for provider agencies before the budget is signed into law.

Debra Wentz, Chief Executive Officer of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, highlighted several provisions in the budget that are positive for children and adults who need community-based behavioral services. She indicated, though, financial replenishment is needed for the Special Needs Housing Trust fund.

Pleased with the proposed funding for human services, Candice Singer with the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence - New Jersey requested a hefty spike in the amount of funding dedicated to Christie's proposed statewide Drug Court program. The program would make treatment mandatory for non-violent, drug-addicted offenders.

Singer said money saved on less imprisonment should be devoted to treatment and the proposed statewide system. She estimated 62-million dollars in savings.

Singer continued, "The Governor proposed two-and-a-half million dollars for that program, which is simply not sufficient."

She said the proposed funding would serve about 200 offenders. Thousands would be entered into the program each year.

Two more public hearings are scheduled for March 14 and 20.

"With New Jerseyans having been dealt a net 20 percent property tax increase under Governor Christie, it's more important that ever to hear what residents need to see in their state spending plan," explained Assembly Budget Chairman Vincent Prieto (D). "We need their input as we move forward, and we will stay at each and every hearing until everyone who wants to speak is heard."