POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Could state leaders be nearing a budget deal?

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

Kids taking the tour of the State house Thursday were treated to an up close look at how state government works, at least how it appears to work to the outside world. But in the relative privacy of the caucus rooms, away from the impressionable eyes of the children, Lawmakers are said to be dangerously close to a final budget deal — or ultimatum — depending on who you talk to.

“As far as a I know, we’ve been negotiating and we’ve been making strides,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg.

On the record, that’s what all the Lawmakers we talked to were saying on this frantic afternoon, but off the record, the word is that both houses have agreed on the parameters of the budget. The details are sketchy, but the spending plan does not appear to include the governor’s millionaire’s tax, an increase in the sales tax, or some of his other priorities like funding for community college tuition.

“The negotiations are ongoing,” said Senate Budget Committee Chair Paul Sarlo. “We’ve established a budget committee date for Tuesday, June 19. I’ve notified my members that we will have a budget in committee.”

Sources say a version of Senate President Steve Sweeney’s tax on million-dollar corporations is the revenue generator the legislative leaders have agreed to.

“I think every day you get a little bit closer to resolving these issues. It’s a give and take like every budget year. It’s just that it’s a little more heightened for you guys this year because it’s a Democratic governor and Democratic Legislature and a new Democratic governor, but I’m comfortable we’re going to get there,” said Sarlo.

Otherwise, it looked like a typical Thursday voting session with lawmakers running the gauntlet of lobbyists and others. Meanwhile, the Legislative Black Caucus presented its annual list of priorities, as party leaders huddled in another part of the State House, unlikely to have heard what was said at the sparsely attended press conference.

“We’re going to work on information, but I can say this to you: I would ask the caucus, if, in fact, things are not going the way we think they should be going with participation, that we do what we did in the past, that we don’t take a personal vote, because a personal vote may be a yea or nay. Wet take a caucus vote, a vote to do nothing until somebody talks to us,” said Sen. Ron Rice, who chairs the caucus.

Progressives, who have waited for the day when Democrats had all this control, could see a lot of their priorities fall by the wayside, too, especially if they cost anything, like community college tuition. They’re still talking “revenue raisers,” even as legislative leaders seem declare ‘taxes’ a four-letter word.

“Most unfortunate that it’s mostly men. I think if we had more female Legislators, we would be better off,” said Analilia Mejia, executive director of New Jersey Working Families.

The three principals – the Senate president, Assembly speaker and the governor – are all scheduled to meet again on Friday. One senator said the version of the budget they present to the governor then will be the final version. He can take out whatever he wants, said another, but he can’t put anything in. Which is true, except there are about three weeks left to negotiate.