By Dari Kotzker
Both houses passed the almost $33 billion state budget, but today some lawmakers still expressed deep frustration with cuts in spending. Sen. Nellie Pou was one of 10 Democrats who voted no. Her reasons included lack of funding for women’s health care clinics, preschool programs and urban enterprise zones.
“I don’t believe that many of the priorities that are important in serving the good of all of the residents in the state of New Jersey is really covered or provided for in this budget. It could’ve been a better budget and I think a lot more work needed to be done,” Pou said.
“Not everyone is satisfied with the things that they were interested in,” said Republican Sen. Anthony Bucco. “I’m not satisfied that the OSA wasn’t in there. I’m not satisfied that the million dollars for cancer research wasn’t in there, but you know what? Overall, it’s a good budget and I look forward to the economy picking up and that we can start funding a lot more of these things in future.”
Senate President Steve Sweeney says he hopes some of the unfunded items can be revisited in the future. But he still questions how special election funds are so readily available if money is so tight.
“We found $24 million. Or, I don’t know if they found $24 million for the special election. Everyone’s raising the issue of the $24 million for one reason. If we’re this lean on everything, and I do know we’re very lean, that $24 million could’ve been spent in a better way,” Sweeney said.
Republican Sen. Jennifer Beck says there is funding for women’s health care through state and federal dollars. And this budget has the largest state contribution ever for K through 12 education — $9 billion.
“I think we’ve been hearing Democrats say they need more money, they need more money for many, many years,” Beck said. “But I think more than half of the Democrats did vote for this budget. It does not include any new taxes and it funds our priorities.”
The spending plan barely differed from Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed budget and there was little debate on the both floors prior to the vote.
“We didn’t give in to anything, we wouldn’t have gotten any more or any less with what we did. We just wanted to be responsible as leaders in this state in getting a budget on the people’s desk to ensure that government, yes, can function, yes we can get along to get things done,” Sweeney said.
“It may not be as exciting for some folks when you don’t have that hyper partisanship and name calling and arguing. It’s just better to work together and agree to disagree in some areas. That’s OK as well,” said Democratic Sen. Jeff Van Drew.
The legislators I spoke with today say there will continue to be tough budgets over the next few years. The governor is expected to sign this one later in the week.