By Daniel L. Lombardo
New Jersey is broke, and drastic financial choices must be made. It has become clear to many of us that our state has reached its breaking point and that a courageous, outside-the-box plan must be put forth. That is why I have decided to support Gov. Corzine's financial restructuring plan.
Given the magnitude of the problem and the implications of the proposed plan, this was not an easy decision. It was important to join with dozens of business leaders, organizations and community activists who decided to be a part of the solution rather than sit on the sidelines and accept our fate.
We in New Jersey need to face the fact that this fiscal crisis threatens to undermine all the good that we have accomplished in improving our schools and communities. Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts (D., Camden) and Senate President Richard J. Codey (D., Essex) should be commended for always keeping the families of New Jersey front and center. They, too, have made many very difficult decisions, but always with the best interests of New Jersey residents in mind. They have been fine stewards of our state's resources.
The time has come for a new way of thinking and for hard choices to be made. It is not because we want to do this, but because we have to. Our state's leadership must act now and must have the support of community leaders for its actions.
It is important to understand that the governor's plan is not simply to increase highway tolls. It cuts our debt in half; it proposes fiscal restraint for the future; and it makes certain that we, the people, approve all future debt so we do not get into this mess again. It is courageous, ignores political expediency, and provides a foundation for New Jersey families to build upon.
Make no mistake about it, the short-term budget reductions the governor will propose this month could cause considerable hardship for a great number of New Jerseyans. And so, justifiably, many people have asked me why I, whose organization administers human services programs, would support the governor when it may very well mean potential cuts for community programs. The answer is simple: It is what needs to be done. It is the only plan that offers a reasonable expectation that state government will be able to provide consistent support for the programs, services and people I work so hard to help.
That having been said, I would be remiss if I did not discuss the need to keep community programs vibrant, if simply from a fiscal point of view. I speak for many of my colleagues when I say that we expand the services of government but at half the cost and three times the result. My organization, Volunteers of America Delaware Valley, for example, provides services for homeless families and adults, people with special needs, individuals addicted to drugs, parolees, and so on. It costs about $48,000 to house a nonviolent offender in a state prison. Volunteers of America Delaware Valley's cost is less than half that.
Inmates discharged directly from prison onto the streets have a better than 66 percent to 85 percent chance of reoffending within the first three years. By contrast, offenders who enter one of our community corrections programs have less than a 20 percent reoffense rate in their first two years in the community.
Quite frankly, community programs work well, cut taxpayer expense, truly rehabilitate ex-offenders, directly impact public safety, and improve society as a whole. By working with the governor and Legislature, I hope to bring this fiscal message to Trenton. The crisis has been well documented and all agree that we are in tough times. Because of that, tough decisions must be made now before we hit a true fiscal dead end that will shatter any hope of a brighter tomorrow.