NJ Republicans call for eliminating public advocate

Republicans Wednesday proposed axing the state public advocate’s
department, claiming the move would save money amid tough budget times and eliminate an agency they contend simply duplicates services.

The department is charged with making government more responsive to the needs of New Jerseyans, especially vulnerable citizens.

But Sen. Steve Oroho said the agency’s duties seem to overlap with other state
departments.

“I would think we have 120 public advocates in what’s called the Legislature,” said
Oroho, R-Sussex. “I just think that there’s certainly duplication that shouldn’t be
there.”

But Public Advocate Ronald Chen, during a Wednesday Senate budget hearing, said his department is “unique,” especially watching out for utility rate payers, nursing home patients and those with mental illness and developmental disabilities.

“None of us are interested in reinventing wheels or duplicating effort,” Chen said.

Senate Budget Chairwoman Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, who once worked for the department, said she would oppose any effort to eliminate it.

“I think that you’re vital for the more vulnerable people in our population,” Buono
told Chen.

The department was eliminated by Republicans when they controlled state government in 1994, but reinstated by now-majority Democrats in 2006.

Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s $33 billion budget plan proposes $2.7 billion in
cuts to try to fix state finances troubled by deficits and high debt and taxes.

He has proposed eliminating the agriculture, commerce and personnel departments, but has recently said the agriculture department would likely remain.

The call to eliminate the department comes after it released a report Tuesday that
found numerous problems with the way the state screens, remediates and follows up on lead poisoning cases.

But Republicans said eliminating the public advocate would save up to $10 million.

“Despite its name, the agency does almost nothing to actually serve the public
interest,” Republicans said in a statement. “It has no defined responsibilities and
duplicates functions that other agencies have or should perform.”

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