To the Editor:
Colin Vonvorys is right to question state spending (Town Topics, July 21), but as radio personality Paul Harvey likes to say, he needs "the rest of the story."
While budget spending increased, there was a substantial cut in federal aid by the Bush Administration and Congress, which New Jersey had to make up. In particular, over $455 million for nursing homes was cut from the federal budget. In addition, community care workers had no substantial pay increases in a number of years. In order to keep quality health care workers, we increased their pay by 3.5 percent. Other health care cuts from the feds included $12 million for our AIDS drug program.
But most striking is the President's proposed cuts of $800 million in homeland security aid that will result in a substantial loss for our firefighters and other first responders. The 911 enhancements alone constituted a $15 million increase in our budget.
There are things we chose to increase, which is a fair concern. First, we eliminated a trend started by the Whitman administration to cut funding for hospitals to administer charity care and other health programs, by increasing hospital aid by $150 million. Second, we funded our own stem cell research program at $9.5 million. We also increased funding by $397 million for our prescription drug program so that more seniors would be eligible. Other increases included $8 million for veterans' homes, $10 million for early intervention programs for children, and $17 million for cancer initiatives.
There were budgetary costs that could not be avoided. Specifically, to address the failures of our Division of Youth and Family Services and staffing levels set by the Whitman Administration, we increased funding by $125 million. We allotted $22 million for developmentally disabled services and $10 million for mental health programs.
To address court-mandated improvements for the state's poorest schools, we spent $182 million for preschool programs so that children would be better prepared for school. Funding for higher education will increase by $164 million, which will include an offer to top graduating high school seniors of free tuition at our county colleges. Arts funding will increase by $27 million. We also allotted $1.3 billion for the costs of pensions and other benefits for teachers so that local districts would not have to shoulder the burden.
Half of the overall budget over $14 billion will result in direct property tax relief and larger rebate checks for more than 3 million residents. Seniors will qualify for rebates as high as $1,200. Middle-income homeowners will qualify for rebates between $500 and $800. Tenant rebate checks will increase by $50. We will restart the "senior freeze" property tax program that began at the end of the Whitman Administration. While these may be temporary fixes, I also cosponsored legislation to initiate a constitutional convention whereby we can once and for all fix our over-reliance on property taxes.
I do not question anyone raising concerns over my budget votes. I should have to answer for my actions in the legislature. While essential programs could have been eliminated, this budget represented, in my opinion, the best hope to address the burdens of property taxes and our ability to maintain essential services.
To the Editor:
Recent arrests of immigrants in Princeton and Trenton have drawn attention to the lack of information available to the public about immigrants and immigration law. On behalf of the Latin American Task Force, a volunteer network of local organizations and individuals supporting the smooth integration of immigrants into our community, I urge members of the community to attend our meetings (held at Princeton Public Library) in order to become better informed and dispel some commonly held misconceptions, some of which have been published recently in the press.
First, undocumented immigrants are not criminals; being here illegally is not a criminal offense. Second, it may surprise people to realize that it can take more than ten years for individuals to receive a green card. Third, many immigrants who try to legalize their status are at present barred from doing so by current legislation. Fourth, undocumented people can and many do pay state, federal and social security taxes. Finally, undocumented people have rights and protections under the law.
On July 24, the New Jersey Catholic Conference, in collaboration with the Latin American Task Force, organized a march and inter-faith vigil in Princeton in support of immigrant rights and immigration law reform. We stand firmly against the recent raids on the homes of immigrant families. We urge members of the community and our elected representatives to support the rights and protection of all people citizens and documented or undocumented immigrants and to promote immigration reform so that our immigration laws reflect our economic and social policies and the international agreements we have with our neighbors on this continent.
To the Editor:
I would like to respond to the letter from Barry Rabner, President and CEO of Princeton HealthCare System.
It is interesting that he thinks his organization has earned the title "Good Neighbor." Some of us who live on Harris Road disagree either with his definition or with his statement.
Last year Mr. Rabner removed office functions that were illegally placed in houses owned by the hospital. However, at a meeting last year he agreed to put those houses back on the market or rent them. If you drive through our neighborhood it seems he has fulfilled that promise. A quick look shows lawns that are mowed, bushes that are trimmed and flowers are growing. However, a closer look shows peeling paint, crooked and rusted doors. The properties are used for storage and parking. The backyards are used for storage, gas pumps, and employee picnic areas. There is no indication that the hospital has any intention of keeping its commitment. In fact, the hospital is allowing the houses to all but fall down.
If Mr. Rabner wants to be a good neighbor, let him keep his promise and allow real neighbors to buy those houses and return Harris Road to a residential neighborhood.
To the Editor:
Mayor Phyllis Marchand and members of the Princeton Health Care Task Force will hopefully ask the right questions as they continue to review the hospital's strategic plan (see "Task Force Reviews Hospital's Strategic Plan," Town Topics, July 21).
The word "competitive" appeared several times in the Town Topics article and while Barry Rabner, president and CEO of the hospital system, maintains the hospital needs to be brought up to date to be competitive, my questions are these:
1) Will a new facility restore loyalty on the part of patients and physicians who chose to go elsewhere over recent years?
2) Can a community hospital really be expected to compete with Sloan-Kettering or Mount Sinai in New York City, or the University of Pennsylvania complex in Philadelphia?
3) Barry Royce, chair of the Borough Zoning Board of Adjustment, correctly sees "a shrewd business objective" in the strategic plan. Do we have finances driving the hospital out of town?
4) Isn't it time to better serve the community's needs instead of engaging in a contest where health facilities strive to outdo each other? After all, we do have St. Peter's and Robert Wood Johnson within easy driving distance.
Mayor Marchand recognizes this hospital issue as a "major event" in the community, but let's remember as we "compete" that we need to be the victor, not the loser.
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