POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Budget harmony is short-lived as Prieto attacks governor for line-item vetoes

BY Rhonda Schaffler, Correspondent |

State Senate President Steve Sweeney wrote in an editorial that the new budget is the best in the last 10 years, pointing to the $130.4 million in increased state aid for underfunded school districts and an additional $50 million for special education aid and expanded preschool programs.

Those were among the priorities Democrats set out to get funded. Gov. Christie keeping his word and agreeing to 73 specific budget requests made by the Democrats. It’s something he also mentioned in the heat of the negotiations.

“There’s actually 73 items of spending, in total $325 million that I’m willing to agree to that are int he main Democratic priorities for the budget, in addition to what I proposed in my budget in February,” the governor said.

The Democrats also got more money for programs for women’s health, abuse prevention, cancer research, prisoner re-entry programs and pay increases for those workers who aid people with disabilities.

But Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto took issue with the several budget line items vetoed by Christie, saying the governor broke his word. In a press release, Prieto took this swipe: “Anyone who contends Gov. Christie is an honest man has spent too much time sitting in the sun with him or in traffic on the George Washington Bridge.”

Prieto also criticized the governor for removing language in the budget that would have dedicated money for preschool expansion to just a handful of school districts with high risk children, eliminating the family cap for the state’s welfare program and for cutting food assistance.

Christie’s response? He never agreed to sign a budget that preserved every additional spending request and that Prieto’s statement is false.

The governor touted a number of items in the budget, particularly the additional $2.5 billion in pension funding, and praised the agreement to direct 37 billion in lottery money over 30 years to the underfunded state pension system. He also pointed out the budget has no tax increases and no new taxes.

Other spending items Christie highlighted in his own press release included:

– An increase in school aid to a total of $14 billion, with $2.3 billion for higher education.
– $136 million in substance use and mental health treatment.
– About $994 million in state and federal funds to investigate child abuse and neglect.

While Christie got most of what he wanted, he didn’t get any money from Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield. But under a Horizon bill that was passed to break the budget logjam, the insurer now must provide more transparency and its excessive reserves will be capped at 725 percent.

And the Democrats didn’t get everything they wanted either, restoring funding for Planned Parenthood and a $15 minimum wage will have to wait for the next governor.