Legislators signal progress on budget deal

Day three of the state government shutdown and lawmakers anticipate working late tonight to resolve the issues that have led to the budget impasse. The biggest one: Horizon. The bill to restructure the nonprofit’s board. Today, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto met with Horizon’s CEO Bob Marino in the capitol. Marino is also an NJTV trustee and Horizon is a funder of NJTV News. Here’s his assessment of the meeting:

Marino: It was a very productive meeting, met with the speaker and the Senate president as you all know. Certainly we expressed our point of view with respect to the bill that’s being drafted. I think the speaker and the Senate president understood my perspective and my point of view. I think you all realize that Horizon didn’t ask to be in the middle of this situation, but I do appreciate the opportunity to have met with them and expressed my concerns with the bill. I think it was a good conversation, I think it was very productive, I think there were a lot of open minds in that room and we’ll see where we go from here.

Reporter: Have you offered any kind of compromise to them?

Marino: I expressed our concerns with the bill and we had a good conversation about it, they acknowledged it, and as I said, there were a lot of open minds in that room. We’ll see what they do.

Reporter: Are you done for the day or have they asked you to stick around to negotiate?

Marino: I got a group of people across the street, so I’ve got some work to do. I’m going to be here for awhile.

Aron: You said you told them your opinion of the bill, can you tell us and the public what your opinion is of the bill?

Marino: If you heard our testimony last Monday, that’s exactly what we are concerned about in this bill and that’s what I reiterated. So our public testimony and what you’ve heard are basically the issues we’ve have with this bill.

Reporter: Are they tweaking the bill to make it more palatable to you?

Marino: Let me say this again, I expressed my concerns, they had open minds, they listened, they appreciated my input and we’ll see what both the speaker and the Senate president do.


Speaker Prieto hinted they’re making progress on a compromise:

Prieto: I’ve instructed my staff to start doing some drafting of some other concepts and we’ll go from there. We’re making progress, so you guys hopefully will see something. We will hopefully be voting on the budget soon.


Sen. Joseph Vitale said he’s aiming to get done as much as can can today.

Vitale: …his perspective on the legislation. And really a lot of it was theoretical, it wasn’t just the legislation point by point. It was does he represent his company well. He talked about what their mission is and what their expectations are as a company, what our expectations are as a Legislature and as a governing body.

Aron: Are you any closer to a deal?

Vitale: I wouldn’t say that we’re any closer, I would say we’re not farther apart. We had a good conversation today. It’s going to continue until we can get this done.

Reporter: Do you think you’ll be here tonight?

Vitale: That’s my hope.


The chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, Gary Schaer, cast the 28th vote today to approve the budget that still needs 13 more for passage.

Schaer: On a personal level I don’t believe that Horizon’s acceptance or denial of the bill is germane. I don’t work for Horizon, I work for the people of the state of New Jersey, including me. Policy for the entire state dictates here, not policy for Horizon. What is important to all of this is that the bill be fairly written, appropriately written with long term consequences to the benefit of the taxpayer.

Reporter: Can this be done tonight?

Schaer: I think it can be done tonight, yes.

Reporter: Do you think enough progress is being made that the Assembly will vote on a budget tonight?

Schaer: I think everything is possible in Trenton, don’t you?


Senate President Sweeney talked about what’s at stake. He invited program providers — among them Legal Services of New Jersey and the Coalition to
End Domestic Violence — to outline the impact of budget cuts that the governor has threatened to make:

Sweeney: I want an outcome to protect the programs that we as Democrats, on both sides of the aisle, agree to. The people voting ‘yes’ for the budget, they believe in these programs. When the speaker keeps saying you can’t trust the governor, I can tell you we have had our battles, you know I fought with him over the Supreme Court, we’ve had all kinds of fights. Whenever we’ve had an agreement on a budget he has kept it … My goal is to get in a room and stay in a room until we get to a compromise. This is too important. Look, Saturday was a lost day, Sunday was a lost day, we’re here Monday. Tomorrow’s the Fourth of July and I’ll be here tomorrow. At some point we have to come to some kind of an agreement because the budget’s not moving over there and it’s not moving here because it’s too important. These people behind me represent thousands of people and they protect a lot of people. If this funding isn’t in place, people are going to be hurt. As painful as this is, it has to get done. And everyone, I said this the other day, egos have to go out the door now. No absolutes, no lines in the sand. We have to have conversations and we have to be willing to compromise. And saying that I compromised once so I’m not going to compromise twice, it’s not acceptable. There’s too many people being held back right now, too many priority funding programs, for Democrats by the way, getting these funding programs out of a Republican governor. So we think we can compromise. We think we can find a solution.


Hill: Let’s go not to Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron and Senior Correspondent David Cruz. They’ve been on top of all of the developments today in Trenton. Michael, David?

Aron: Michael, things are moving quickly today. David, when you and I attended Sweeney’s press conference at 11 o’clock this morning somebody asked what’s the soonest this could end and Sweeney said tomorrow night. And now we’re being told that this might end tonight. Lawmakers are filtering back to the State House as we speak. The Assembly is under two hour call and they should be here shortly. The Senate is also streaming back to try to vote on a budget and a Horizon bill. What happened between this morning and today and right now?

Cruz: That’s a good question, Michael. Somebody evidently released the emergency brake and hit the gas and all of a sudden parties that seem to be entrenched and far away appear to be a little bit closer now. We’re not sure what the details of the deal are, but it is going to be voted on and at least debated tonight.

Aron: It’s going to be quite similar, I’m told, to the Horizon bill that’s been up in the air for the last two weeks. It’s going to have something to do with new representation on Horizon’s board, salaries of executives are going to have to get posted on the internet, there will be a formula to be able to get excess reserves out of Horizon and to the state, but no money delineated in this bill. Horizon’s charitable mission will change somehow. While this was happening, the talk today was all about Gov. Christie and the photographs of him on the beach, a beach at Island Beach State Park that otherwise was closed to the public. That was kind of a side show today, would you say?

Cruz: It did, and most of the attention of the national media, particularly cable news networks, has been about those photos. Which, while terrible, terrible optics, have very little to do with the actual work that’s going on here today and has been going on here this weekend. You have to wonder what the governor was thinking, but as far as those pictures go, it doesn’t have much to do with the actual work that’s going on here.

Aron: No, it doesn’t, although Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who is running for governor as a Republican and trying to separate herself from Christie, used this opportunity to further separate herself from Christie. Let’s hear her:

Guadagno: I certainly wouldn’t be on the beach at a park that was closed. As I’ve said before, it’s beyond words. It’s insensitive to the people who can’t use the park. At the very least, I think the people of New Jersey expect our governor to be sensitive to the plight of the small business people and the people who wanted to come and use the park over the last couple of days.


Aron: Guadagno has entered the fray on this one. You have to think that Bob Marino has something to do with breaking the log jam. We don’t know what went on in that meeting and he wasn’t terribly forthcoming, but we were in a total knot for three days. He arrives and suddenly people are writing new bills.

Cruz: Yeah, I think that’s right, Michael. The only person who was here today, who wasn’t here over the weekend when really nothing happened other than dueling press conferences, was Bob Marino. But when he came out after that meeting, he started with a meeting with Prieto this morning, then he went into the meeting with the Senate president and then came back out and met with the Assembly speaker again. He’s the only different ingredient in this stalemate stew that we’ve been enjoying all weekend.

Aron: It’s tempting to ask you who blinked, Prieto or Christie? But you could also say who cares.

Cruz: I think you’re right about that. I don’t know how Vincent Prieto can say that he was standing on principle, yet the very thing that he said couldn’t happen and shouldn’t happen appears to be ready to happen tonight.

Aron: That includes the vetting of a Horizon bill. The speaker has been insistent throughout this ordeal really, that it’s a significant bill that deserves its own hearing and own vetting process and if they do it the way it looks like they’re going to do it tonight, which is bypass the committee process, vote an emergency measure to get it onto the board right now. Right now, that board behind us that’s got the budget bill on it, that would be doing it without any vetting whatsoever.

Cruz: That requires, what, a three-quarters vote?

Aron: Yes, three-quarters, 60 votes.

Cruz: He needs 60 votes, he couldn’t get 30 votes for a budget, but he’s going to need 60 votes to pass this new Horizon bill.

Aron: And we’re told that the scenario tonight is that the Assembly will pass the budget bill and all those abstentions will vote for it this time. Then the Assembly will take up the Horizon bill. Then both will go to the Senate. The Senate will approve the budget bill. It will somehow rationalize its Horizon bill with the Assembly’s and maybe we’ll all go home and we’ll have a holiday.