The budget process hit the final stretch Wednesday when both the full Senate and Assembly voted to pass the $50.6 billion spending bill and send it to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk for his signature before Thursday’s midnight deadline.
The voting session followed a marathon Monday, when the legislation was introduced in both the Senate and Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committees, providing members just minutes to review the 277-page text. Republicans have slammed the process and its lack of transparency for both its members and the general public.
Shortly after the upper house gaveled in, Budget Chairman Paul Sarlo, D-36th District, introduced Senate Bill 2023 ahead of the floor vote.
“Today we present a responsible budget that addresses the economic challenges of our time. It provides us the largest tax cut and the largest surplus in state history. It also makes use of state and federal resources to reduce debt and make strategic investments in our future. This plan will make the lives of the people of New Jersey more affordable, with substantial property tax relief for homeowners and renters, direct savings from the distribution of energy tax receipts that goes to every municipality in the state of New Jersey,” said Sarlo.
“There’s a holiday tax holiday for school supplies, and there is the largest ever tax credits for children. The large surplus will protect the taxpayers form any potential economic slowdowns or potential predicted recessions,” Sarlo continued.
Before the vote, Republican Senate Budget Officer Declan O’Scanlon, R-13th District, delivered a scathing rebuke of the plan.
“This budget is about the missed opportunities and what the choice to miss those opportunities says about the Governor and majority parties’ priorities,” he said. “If ever there were a time to give our struggling taxpayers a meaningful amount of relief, it’s right now when we over-collected $9 billion of their money. But we’re not. Republicans propose to give it back immediately – when they’re struggling to pay for skyrocketing fuel prices, when they’re struggling to pay for inflated food prices. Republicans propose to immediately give back a responsible half of that $9 billion … $4.5 billion or $1,500 per household.”
Senate President Nick Scutari, D-22nd District, briefly left the lectern to join in the pre-vote speeches, adamantly defending the budget plan.
“I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I think this is the single greatest budget New Jersey’s ever going to pass. The single greatest one. I mean, you can say what you wish, what’s not there. But this is the greatest property tax relief program in the history of New Jersey,” said Scutari.
After a series of speeches from members of both parties concluded, the bill was put up for a vote where it passed 25-15. The only Republican who voted in favor was Sen. Vince Polistina, R-2nd District, who cited property tax relief as his reason why.
“This is a budget that puts the focus on our priorities of making New Jersey more affordable, addressing the financial needs of working people and expanding the state’s economy,” said Scutari after the bill passed. “We restored the budget language that empowers the Legislature to have a shared responsibility in the use of federal funds. We have the benefit of strong revenues, federal funds and a sound fiscal foundation, but we have to be prudent. We want to ensure that the savings and benefits in this budget are sustained.”
“This budget misses a historic opportunity to give back billions to taxpayers who are struggling with high taxes and inflation,” said Senate Republican Leader Steve Oroho, R-24th District. “Instead of the $8 billion of tax relief that Republicans proposed, Democrats are giving back scraps while doling out billions of dollars for pork projects that we can do without.”
“I’m all for paying back debt, but I’m not for giving Gov. Murphy a pair of massive slush funds that will allow him to dole out taxpayer funds without oversight. We need more transparency in our budget process, not less like Democrats have proposed,” Oroho added.
A missed opportunity?
The action then moved to the Assembly, where Budget Chair Eliana Pintor Marin, D-29th District, introduced the budget bill a short time after Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, gaveled in the voting session.
“This is a budget that we should be proud of. This budget focuses on making massive investments in tax relief to make New Jersey more affordable while supporting middle-class residents and seniors who are struggling. This budget makes investments in education with the largest school aid funding in state history,” said Pintor Marin. “In almost every single area this budget does something to fix a problem, help a group in need, or build upon past success.”
Republicans continued to criticize the plan, echoing the themes and issues of their Senate counterparts, including excess spending, lack of transparency, missed opportunities, and not giving enough money back quickly to struggling New Jerseyans.
“Instead, this budget goes on to feed the beast of spending in Trenton rather than putting money back in people’s pockets who could use that money right now. Finally, the people who are going to vote for this budget believe that it’s better that government holds their money than people have the money in their pockets again,” said Assembly Republican Leader John DiMaio, R-23rd District.
“I just feel we missed an absolute golden opportunity again. Many of the folks in this room will never have the opportunity again to have over $10 billion of unexpected revenue,” said Assembly Budget Officer Hal Wirths, R-24th District. “And thank you, Mr. Speaker, for saying that we’ve got to return more of the taxpayers’ money. But the bottom line is, it should have never been taken.”
“We could have done more, and we should have done more. There’s no question,” Wirths added.
Following another slate of pre-vote speeches, the budget bill passed the Assembly 38-20.
“No new taxes, more than $2 billion in historic tax relief and close to $5 billion in transformative infrastructure investments – this budget delivers for working and middle-class people and families of our state,” said Coughlin after the vote. “I am grateful for the work of my caucus, Assembly Budget Chair Pintor Marin, our colleagues in the Senate, and Senate President Scutari. I look forward to Governor Murphy signing the strong and fiscally responsible budget we have delivered that is addressing everyday kitchen table issues for New Jersey families.”
Murphy is set to sign the bill Thursday morning at Cranford High School where he will be joined by Scutari, Coughlin, Sarlo, Pinto Marin, as well as Treasurer Elizabeth Muoio and Cranford Mayor Kathleen Prunty.