Lawmakers to Begin Debating State Budget

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

Noon tomorrow is when the Senate Budget Committee will introduce and begin debate on the 2015 budget.

The Assembly Budget Committee is set to do the same at 1 p.m.

The aim is to have floor votes in both houses Thursday.

Facing a shortfall of $2.7 billion, Gov. Chris Christie wants to cut state payments into the public worker pension system.

Senate President Steve Sweeney wants to fully fund the pension payment and instead hike taxes on the wealthy and on business.

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto has a similar plan.

“No more taxes. No new taxes,” said Assemblyman Jon Bramnick.

Assembly Republicans today spoke out against the Democrats’ plan, wondering what’s happened to bipartisan reform.

“Just a short while ago, we were all on the same page, making New Jersey more affordable, less taxes, no new taxes. Well, what’s changed? What’s changed is a fight within the Democratic ranks for a primary bid in the gubernatorial election a couple of years from now,” Bramnick said.

Republicans say the tax hikes would kill job creation.

“These massive broad-based tax increases being advocated by our friends on other side of the aisle are suicidal,” said Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon.

Christie is expected to veto the tax hikes and enforce his pension cut through the line-item veto.

The wild card in all this is that Judge Mary Jacobson is hearing a challenge to the governor’s plan by public workers this Wednesday.

But neither party thinks that will have any immediate impact.

“By next Monday we have to have a passed constitutional fair and balanced budget. And I don’t think we can really have an eye towards what the judge is gonna do, or might do, or could do. We have to go along with what we know and we have the governor’s budget, we have the Senate version, we have the Assembly’s. That’s what’s on the table right now,” said Sen. Kevin O’Toole.

“We’re gonna be acting independently of the judicial branch’s opinions. So we will have a balanced budget in place before June 30. Will be on the governor’s desk and then if there are any changes that need to be made based on the judiciary’s ruling, so be it. We’ll be back here in the summer,” said Sen. Paul Sarlo.

So that means, for now, the reduction in pension payments is likely to stand.

When asked if Christie is going to have the last word on the issue, Sarlo said, “Listen, the executive branch has the last word. It’s his signature at the end of the day but the governor can’t say we didn’t provide any alternatives. We did provide alternatives to the spending plan he proposed.”

So the budget endgame is getting a little more clear and the likelihood of a breakdown or a shutdown considerably more distant.