NJ Budget Deal Could Collapse With Assembly Democrats At Odds [AUDIO]
The deadline for a signed and balanced budget is one week from tomorrow and yesterday a whole bunch of flies fell into the ointment.
A group of Assembly Democrats large enough to derail passage of the Democrat-sponsored budget bill say they will not support it unless they're on the feel-good side of some 11th hour horse trading.
Assemblyman Joe Cryan is leading the group of nine fellow Democrats from the Assembly in threatening to vote 'no' on the budget unless the Rutgers-Rowan University merger bill is delayed until after this November's elections. He says his faction of Democrats doesn't oppose the merger. They just feel it needs a lot more vetting.
"If we handle this bill right, if we do it right it could potentially pass unanimously," explains Cryan. "There's an open mind. However, the budget is where the leverage is. We shouldn't move on the budget until we have a commitment that we're not going to move the higher ed bill."
Asked if he expects a commitment from Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver to hold the merger bill, Cryan answers, "I guess we'll know Monday. If the budget bill is up, there's nine members that have committed to not supporting it…..We want to be supportive of this budget. We just want to do it in a proper, thoughtful, reasonable way and that includes not pretending that higher ed reorganization is not part of the financial future of the State of New Jersey."
It takes 41 votes in the Assembly to pass any bill including a budget bill. If the 'Cryan-9' holds out, Assembly Democrats would be two votes shy and in need of Republican support.
Assembly Budget Committee chairman Vinnie Prieto, a Democrat, isn't worried about that.
He explains, "I think we'll have 41 in our caucus. I don't think that's going to be a need…..We are extremely confident that we will have 41 votes."
In an 8-5 vote along party lines yesterday, the State Senate Budget Committee passed the Democrat-sponsored $31.741 billion budget bill. It's scheduled to be considered by the full Senate this coming Monday. The Assembly Budget Committee, which had planned a hearing on the budget bill for last night, instead decided after a long voting session on other bills to leave it until 10am this morning.
Democratic Senate Budget Committee chairman Paul Sarlo says the Democrats' spending plan sets aside $183 million in surplus funds to enact an unspecified tax cut in January 2013. He says Senate President Steve Sweeney has drafted legislation to enable the tax reduction if revenues are equal to Governor Chris Christie's estimates.
"After months of promising to deliver critical tax relief to the people of New Jersey, Corzine Democrats today proved it's just more of the same when it comes to their addiction to raising taxes and holding tax relief hostage," said Christie. "Corzine Democrats are sending a loud, resounding no to tax relief for hardworking New Jerseyans because they'd rather repeat the cycle of the eight years before I became Governor, raising taxes and fees every 25 days on the citizens of New Jersey."
The budget committees did take action on other bills that are outside the budget but still related to the spending plan.
One bill would phase-in, over five years, the restoration of $331 million in municipal property tax relief funding. First year funding would be about $66 million. The bills ensure that each municipality in the State will be restored to the 2007 (SFY 2008) Energy Tax Receipts and Consolidated Municipal Property Tax Relief Aid level, over 5 years and a poison pill will protect that level of funding for each municipality, while continuing to require aggregate Energy Tax Receipts inflation adjustments.
Edison Mayor Toni Ricigliano, who also serves as Vice Chairperson of the League's Energy Receipts Restoration Task Force, says, "We salute Assemblyman Singleton and Senator Sarlo for their leadership. They and their cosponsors have heard what New Jersey Mayors have been saying, and they have responded. The bill recognizes that municipalities have long been denied revenues that they were promised, and to which they are entitled."
Christie hasn't spoken out specifically on the bill, but in the past he's said mayors are wrong to claim the revenue belongs to them.
The Democrats' state budget plan calls for spending $404 million less than the spending plan proposed by Christie in February and $62 million less than the revised budget State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff presented to budget committees in May.
The Democrats' plan calls for $133 million in new spending and they've identified $112 million in cuts.
Another measure increases the Earned Income Tax Credit program to 25% of federal earned income tax credit amounts. That would cost the state $50 million in the first year. While Christie mentioned increasing the credit in his Budget Address he has not taken a public position on this particular bill.
Democrats are trying again to secure almost $7.5 million for family planning and women's health services. Christie has already vetoed this measure in the past.
$5 million would also be added to expand the neighborhood revitalization State tax credit under another bill.