Lawmakers Express Differing Opinions on State Budget

By Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron
NJ Today

The Senate took up the budget bill first.

It was negotiated this year between the Democratic majorities and the Republican governor.

As a result, there was little friction and little change from the budget Gov. Chris Christie presented in February.

“There was not a whole lot of changes to be made because there is not a lot of room to do so,” said Sen. Paul Sarlo, the budget chairman.

Sarlo said he’s not overly thrilled with the budget but it protects the vulnerable.

Republican Budget Officer Tony Bucco hailed the $32.9 billion spending plan, a 2.3 percent increase over the current year.

“It is commendable that both parties have been able to work together in an election year on a budget that remarkably spends less than the Corzine budget of 2008,” said Bucco.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono said she is disappointed in the budget and delivered a blistering critique.

“This budget refuses to invest in universal preschool and we should be ashamed of that. That is the one thing that we know closes the achievement gap, and that’s not me speaking, that’s the experts. That’s people who know this is an investment, it’s not an expense,” Buono said.

Democrat Dick Codey said the budget should be restoring money for family planning clinics and for the working poor.

“To me, Mr. President, this budget needs a transplant. It needs a heart transplant,” Codey said.

“I’m hearing comments today for the first time that people will be disappointed. Y’know, it’s easy when you’re not in charge to be all things to all people,” said Sen. Kevin O’Toole.

After a 70-minute debate, the vote was 29 to 11, with 10 Democrats and Republican Mike Doherty voting no.

Sarlo seemed to take pleasure in shepherding the bill to such early passage.

“There’s no drama, there’s no shutdown. It’s 2:30 in the afternoon on June 24. We’ve all been here on June 30 turning back the clock. It’s not happening this year,” Sarlo said.

Around 5 p.m., the Assembly took its turn.

“This budget, even though it’s not perfect, I think it was a negotiated budget and I think this is a budget within the parameters of what we had to deal with. I think it’s a good budget for the residents of the state of New Jersey and madam speaker, with that, I move the bill,” said Budget Committee Chairman Assemblyman Vincent Prieto.

“This budget is a strong one. It’s a fiscally responsible one. It spends only money that we have,” said Minority Budget Officer Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon.

The Assembly vote was 52 to 25. The budget now goes to the governor, who has line item veto power. His aides expect a public signing ceremony Thursday or Friday.