Democratic leaders confident that budget shutdown can be avoided

BY Briana Vannozzi, Senior Correspondent |

“We are not going to shut government down, as much as people would love to see Democrats in the Legislature and the Governor’s Office shut government down,” said Sen. Paul Sarlo.

In case you were wondering, and many are, Sarlo, who chairs the Budget and Appropriations Committee, insists all the whispers of a budget impasse are just that.

“As budget chair, I’m going to do everything I can possibly do to deliver a balanced budget, like we do every year, without having to relive what happened last year,” Sarlo said.

This after Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin recently revealed he won’t support the governor’s plan to increase the state’s sales tax. And Senate President Steve Sweeney is backing him. It’s one of the revenue sources Murphy wants to use to pay for things like tuition aid at community colleges, NJ Transit support, school funding and payments into the state pension system.

“When you begin to take some of those revenue raisers off the table, there’s going to be some new programs that will have to come off the table as well,” Sarlo said.

Murphy’s office dismissed that idea Tuesday, remaining optimistic and saying in a statement, “… Governor Murphy is confident that those discussions will end with a budget that sets the state on the path toward becoming stronger and fairer for all residents.”

Even as the State Treasurer’s Office released data showing revenue collections fell flat compared to last April, about 1 percent less, with total revenues remaining on target. The Treasurer’s Office says it was anticipated because taxpayers opted to prepay in December due to the SALT [State and Local Tax] deduction, but it means the governor and Democrats can’t count on that money in lieu of a tax increase.

“There’s nothing other than major reforms like health benefits reform, pension reforms that’s going to save us billions of dollars. Everything else is going to be incremental and we’re going to have to do it all,” said Republican Sen. Declan O’Scanlon.

At a hearing for the Department of Health on Tuesday, O’Scanlon said the budget did get an April surprise, the Supreme Court ruling on sports betting.

“It’s not going to solve our state budget problem,” he said. “It’ll be a drop in the bucket there quite frankly, but it will have a lot of collateral benefits.”

“We’re not going to get the windfall that we were all hoping for based upon the ruling, but I still think you will still see somewhere in the $20 to $30 million range from sports betting in FY19,” Sarlo said.

Coughlin couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday, but his stance against the millionaire’s tax reportedly also remains unchanged.

A spokesperson for Sweeney says he meets with the governor most Thursdays and discussions are happening. There seems to be less emphasis on whether a potential shutdown is brewing, and more on the fact that a Democratic-controlled Legislature and Governor’s Office are being forced to answer questions on it at all.