No new programs, taxes, fees in short-term budget sent to Murphy
State lawmakers met a June 30 deadline to approve a state spending plan Monday, but it’s a short-term patch that will require them to make tougher decisions for the upcoming budget in three months.
The bill approved Monday – S20/A3 – approves $7.7 billion in spending through September. It’s an unprecedented extension of the 2020 budget, leading into an unprecedented nine-month fiscal 2021 that will begin 2021, as the state takes time to assess the depths of its budget shortfalls.
Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter, D-Passaic, said it was tough to vote a bill that defunds priorities.
“We face a pandemic of sizable, cataclysmic proportions that have devastated us in a 12-week period,” Sumter said.
Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, said the short-term budget contains no new programs and no new taxes, fees or borrowing.
“There’s nothing to be excited about, quite frankly, here,” Sarlo said. “These here are very, very difficult fiscal times we are in now and I believe for the next 12 to 18 months.”
Assemblyman Hal Wirths, R-Sussex, said “it really kind of blows my mind” that Democrats are “patting themselves on the back” for not increasing taxes in the short-term budget.
“My God, during the worst economic times that our state has had, to be bragging that we can’t go three months without increasing taxes is a little offensive,” Wirths said.
The original budget was over $40 billion. To pare down spending in the short term, a number of big-ticket expenses such as a pension contribution and school aid payments normally made in September are deferred until at least October, pushing the decision into the 2021 budget due by Sept. 30.
Sen. Steve Oroho, R-Sussex, said the budget pushes decisions down the road, in hopes of a federal bailout or reckless borrowing.
“After many of our suggestions have been ignored, we find ourselves boxed into a corner and expected to go along or otherwise we’re considered not to be cooperating,” Oroho said. “Well, when you’re in a corner, you can either give up or fight your way out. This Legislature needs to help New Jersey fight its way out and get real reforms to put New Jersey back on a path to prosperity.”
The bill passed 21-17 in the Senate – where Democrats Dawn Marie Addiego and Vin Gopal voted against the plan – and 46-27 in the Assembly, where the vote was strictly along party lines.
Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, said Gov. Phil Murphy is squandering an opportunity to put in place pension and health benefit changes that are needed to fix the state’s long-term finances.
“It should scare every single taxpayer,” O’Scanlon said. “It should demonstrate to them that either the governor doesn’t understand their plight and their fears and how desperate they are – we all, every single one of us, has spoken to constituents that are terrified – or he does understand and he doesn’t care. That’s a problem.”
The Legislature passed separate legislation that will revamp the health-care plans offered to public school employees. It reduces the number of existing health plans and creates two new ones with lower costs. If teachers switch to a new plan, their share of the costs will be based on their salary, not their premiums, and their contributions will drop significantly.
Senate President Steve Sweeney has said it could save more than $1 billion a year between the state, local districts and teachers.
Murphy Monday also vetoed more than $217 million in proposed spending that had been approved by lawmakers, including $100 million for small business loans, $100 million for rental assistance and more than $17 million for welfare benefits and reforms. He said the state’s finances don’t allow for the spending.
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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.