HEALTH

Assembly and Senate work to pass budget as deadline looms

If lawmakers don’t pass a budget by Friday the state government could shut down for only the second time in history. Those are the stakes as they race to finalize the $35.5 billion budget. Where the money comes from and where it goes to, those are the issues. NJTV Correspondent Briana Vannozzi is standing by in Trenton.

Vannozzi: You know what Mary Alice, just a little while ago Senate President Steve Sweeney was speaking with reporters and mentioned how we haven’t had this kind of excitement, this kind of buzz as the deadline has loomed for the budget in a couple of years. Here’s where we’re at right now: basically the Senate president and Assembly speaker Vincent Prieto have agreed on a school funding plan of about $125 million. Now the governor has been at odds with each of them over this, but has said, listen I’ll give you that funding plan if in exchange you pass two bills that the governor has been lauding throughout the budget season. One is for the state lottery system to convert any revenue from the state lottery system to help pay down some of the debts for the state’s public worker pension system. The other is a really contentious bill over Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, the state’s largest insurer. Lets hear a bit of sound from the Senate Budget Committee Chair, Sen. Paul Sarlo, from just a few moments ago about where we’re heading as the committee’s meeting.

Sarlo: Our goal here is to run through the agenda, including the budget bill. Now, the budget bill, and I want to try to give everybody a heads up here, the budget bill, there is some administrative, the policy issues appear to be worked out, but there’s some drafting and administrative issues that need to be worked out between the Office of Legislative Services and the Office of Management and Budget, and they’re working through that. So we’ll keep everybody abreast of how those details work out. If it gets too late in the evening, there’s a possibility we may not adjourn, we may keep the committee open and convene at a time tomorrow morning, early afternoon, when we know that document will be ready for the public consumption.

Vannozzi: So that bill would use $300 million of surplus funds from Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield to pay for some addiction treatment and other items that Christie has been eyeing. It’s expected that both the lottery and the Horizon bill will pass out of the budget committee, but the budget bill won’t go for a floor vote. Now, there’s a number of folks who are opposed to this, business groups, both Kim Guadagno and Phil Murphy, the gubernatorial candidates, Sens. Booker and Menendez who are vehemently opposed to this bill. I should also mention that earlier today the Assembly and Senate passed a bill that would expand family leave for families, although the governor is expected to veto that so we’ll keep you posted on what’s transpiring here this evening.