BUSINESS & ECONOMY

State budget tops list of concerns on walk to Washington

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

It’s the 82nd edition of the Walk to Washington, aka the Chamber Train. It’s where the elite meet, greet and schmooze. It’s politicians, business people, lobbyists and activists thrown together in a packed train that accommodates the wide variety of personalities and philosophies that make up the state’s political ecosystem.

“We have 900 on the train, 1,000 at the dinner. We have 10 out of the 12 House delegation from New Jersey at the dinner tonight. The keynote will be from Gov. Murphy. It’s always a great event,” said Michael Egenton, executive vice president of government relations for the NJ Chamber of Commerce, the host of this event.

The annual jaunt from Newark to Washington D.C. — that this year took place on 14 Amtrak cars — is a fairly reliable barometer of what decision makers are thinking and talking about. And this year, with the trip just a few days ahead of the governor’s annual budget address, well, you can probably guess.

“People are obviously talking about the budget. The budget address comes up on Tuesday so people are asking me what I think about how it’s going to be,” said Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. “I’m going to insist on no broad-based taxes — no income, no sales — but we’ll see what the governor has. I’m hopeful that we’re going to have a smooth sail, but I’m an optimist.”

Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin said every year the budget gets tougher to pass.

“It’s getting tougher and tougher just because our general fund does not have the flexibility that it use to have. Moneys are more tight, and every program, and pensions, and benefits, health care, so each year it is becoming more and more difficult to close out our budget and make it a sustainable budget. So I think that we just have to wait and see what the governor’s going to be saying,” said Marin. “None of us what to have a shutdown.”

“If the governor comes in with what people think he’s going to come with, I think the odds of a shutdown go way up,” said Sen. Steve Oroho.

So what is the governor going to come up with? We went as close as we could to the front office, chief of staff George Helmy, whose presence on the train drew a lot of attention.

“I think it’s going to be a budget that we’re incredibly proud of, and we’ll continue investments in the middle class and driving young families to come to New Jersey,” Helmy said.

On the odds of a shutdown?

“I don’t know that, it’s March. But I know that we’re going to put forward a really good product for people. It’s something I’m proud of, and I’m hopeful with the leadership on both parties in the the Senate and Assembly we’re not going to do that because that’s not good for New Jersey, and frankly it’s not good for anybody,” Helmy said.

Which means keep the week of July 1 open. Although that’s months away, and who knows, maybe the cordial tone of the Walk to Washington will let cooler heads prevail.