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Christie Decides Against Adding $10 Million to NJ Lead Control Fund

Governor Took No Action on Bill to Replenish Historically Underfunded Entity
Daniel Munoz

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—A bill to send $10 million to New Jersey's historically underfunded lead control and abatement program was "pocket-vetoed" by Governor Chris Christie, even after it passed both houses of the State Legislature.

Governor Christie had until noon on January 19 to sign or veto S-1279, which would appropriate $10 million to the Lead Hazard Control Assistance Fund.  Because the bill was from a prior legislative session, and Christie took no action, the "pocket veto" effectively killed the bill.

It was one of 25 bills the Governor took no action on and allowed to die.  Conversely, Christie signed off on 94 of the bills that were sent to him in the final days of the legislative session that ended on January 11.

Lead is a toxic, heavy metal often found in pipes, paint, pigments, weights, ammunition, storage batteries and cable covers. It was most heavily used between the 1930's and 1970's. Before its ban in 1995, lead was found to greatly increase the performance as an additive to gasoline.

"Lead can disrupt the normal growth and development of a child's brain and central nervous system," reads the NJ State Health Assessment Data, "Children are exposed to lead by swallowing lead dust, soil, or paint chips, breathing lead contaminated air, or eating food or drinking water that has been contaminated by lead."

The Lead Hazard Control Assistance Fund was formed in 2004 under Governor James McGreevey, with the intent of providing a loan and grant program to remove lead paint from homes and apartments. 

The program was also supposed to provide relocation of children from dwellings with high levels of lead, as well as educaton and community outreach on lead poisoning. 

It mandated that the fund receive between $7 million and $14 million annually through taxes on the sale of paint and surface coatings. Specifically, 50 cents would have been allocated to the fund for every can of paint and surface coating sold. 

But in the eleven years since the fund's creation, at least $53 million in tax revenues were diverted by the state to plug in gaps elsewhere in the budget.

By late 2015, the fund only garnered $23.3 million in tax revenues, compared to the $77 million to $154 million that had been estimated by the Office of Legislative Services. 

Public records show that Christie's 2016 spending plan did not include any tax revenues allocated to the lead control fund, as was the case for the past five years. 

"New Jersey is dramatically lowering incidents of lead poisoning and exposure," Brian T. Murray, a spokesperson for the Governor's office, told NJSpotlight.  "While the number of children tested annually has climbed considerably, there has been a remarkable drop in the number of children found to have lead poisoning. That’s the story.”

Lead poisoning is defined as having at least five micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood. A recent NJ Spotlight investigation found that in 2015, 3,1110 children under six years of age had lead poisoning, and as well as 316 children between the ages of six and seventeen. 

Since 2000, 225,000 children were found to have been afflicted by leaing poisoning.

Generally, those afflicted live in older urban areas like Paterson, Jersey City and Trenton. The NJ State Health Assessment Data found that since 2011, the average lead level in children was less than two micrograms per deciliter of bood. 

“It’s another horrible example of the governor taking money that was designated for an important purpose and putting it in the general fund,” Arnold Cohen, senior policy coordinator at the Trenton-based Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, told the APP over a year ago.

Commenting on S1279 passing both houses of the NJ Legislature, Cohen added that "it’s great that there was bipartisan support and that Republicans voted for the bill because this is not in any way a partisan issue." 

The bill had passed the State Assembly in a vote of 48-20-1, and then passed the State Senate by a vote of 29-6.