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The Jersey Fresh program may be operating with far less money than in previous years if a proposal by New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine comes to pass.

The original appropriation act for the current year (fiscal year 2009) had called for $475,000 for the Jersey Fresh program, according to Tom Vincz, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Treasury Department, although "for all intents and purposes," the Jersey Fresh budget for advertising and promotion was about $400,000.

Gov. Corzine's proposal, announced in mid-March, would cut that by $250,000 in the current year to $150,000, and "the recommendation for the fiscal year 2010 budget is to fund Jersey Fresh promotion and advertising also at $150,000," Mr. Vincz told The Produce News Wednesday, March 25.

The state is required to pass a balanced budget by July 1, and the New Jersey Legislature could restore these or other cuts outlined in the governor's proposed budget. But if the reduction in the Jersey Fresh program stands, its effectiveness would be severely hampered.

Mr. Vincz offered words of praise for the widely respected program, which began in 1984. "This is a highly valued program, and therefore it has been funded at levels that in normal times reflect what the state should be doing" to promote its "agricultural industry and the farmers in the industry and the products that make New Jersey the Garden State," he said. "There is no question that this is a high-valued line item in the budget. Unfortunately, the normal circumstances under which we would fund this program robustly don't exist right now."

He added, "We are in the midst of a downturn that we haven't seen ... in the last 80 years. And as a result of that, we are forced to make some very difficult decisions and to prioritize the spending that we can do with the fewer resources that we do have."

Mr. Vincz urged all those involved in agriculture throughout the state to put the proposed funding reductions into perspective.

"It would be prudent to not take this cut [in the Jersey Fresh program] in isolation because there are 2,400 line items in the budget, and approximately 36 percent of them were cut or eliminated or constrained because there is a shortfall of historic proportions of $7 billion for the upcoming fiscal year and $3.6 million in the current year," he stated.