The time was roughly 10:18 p.m. Monday evening as Assembly Budget Chairwoman Eliana Pintor Marin, D-29th District, closed out voting to advance New Jersey’s Fiscal Year 2023 spending plan through the Budget and Appropriations Committee, capping a marathon session at the statehouse, in an already action packed week in Trenton.
Following weeks of negotiations between Gov. Phil Murphy and legislative leaders, the Senate and Assembly Budget Committees both voted to advance a $50.6 billion budget bill June 27, which was introduced just minutes before being put up for a vote.
Republicans on both committees bemoaned the lack of transparency and time to digest the 277-page plan before it moved to a vote.
“We’ve only had this document now for just about under 20 minutes,” said Senate Republican Budget Officer Declan O’Scanlon, R-13th District. “Nobody voting on it today has had a chance to read the whole thing.”
The votes followed massive delays, with hearings that were originally set to start that day at 1 p.m. Meanwhile, finishing touches to the budget were being finalized between Murphy’s office and the Legislature as the committees voted on a flurry of bills throughout the afternoon and evening on Monday.
The public will have roughly a day to see everything in the spending plan before it heads to a full vote in both houses of the Legislature on Wednesday morning. If it passes, it would then to head to Murphy’s desk to be signed before Thursday’s midnight deadline.
‘Unprecedented’ revenue increases
In addition to $50.6 billion in state funds, the budget also appropriates $24 billion in federal funds.
“I’ll give the members some top lines here,” said Senate Budget Chairman Paul Sarlo, D-36th District, said shortly after introducing the bill. “At the end of the Fiscal Year 2022, the total ending balance was $10.7 billion. The governor’s budget message has been revised due to increases in revenue, unprecedented increases in revenue.”
Sarlo continued to outline additional highlights, including $61.4 billion in total resources and $51.7 billion in total spending. He noted that some of the increases from Murphy’s original budget message stem from the expansion of the ANCHOR Property Tax Relief Program that was announced a few weeks back. That program calls for $2 billion in property tax relief for New Jersey homeowners and renters making up to $250,000 a year.
The unprecedented revenues allowed the stockpile of $6 billion in surplus, 12% of the 2023 budget, as insurance against a possible economic downturn.
“This is the largest surplus in the history of the State of New Jersey,” said Sarlo. “In addition to the $6 billion total ending balance sheet, there’s an additional $4.2 billion of a combination of federal and state funds that will be deposited in a debt defeasance, debt avoidance fund. Those funds can be distributed through the Joint Budget Oversight Committee.”
Republicans, meanwhile, criticized the amount of so-called pork or Christmas tree items included in the spending plan.
“Republicans have some areas where we would differ in this budget,” said O’Scanlon. “There’s over 200-line items, which one man’s investment is another man’s pork that we’re going to go through.”
O’Scanlon and Republicans also scrutinized the ANCHOR program, saying it does not go nearly far enough, especially as compared to their proposed Give-It-Back Rebate plan, which NJBIZ has detailed extensively.
“We would give back a lot more of this money. I appreciate the suggestion that the ANCHOR program is substantial. But in reality, it’s not. No one would see anything for almost a year. It would be this time next year people start to see relief. They need it this year,” O’Scanlon said.
In the 8 o’clock hour, the budget bill was approved by the Senate Budget Committee on an 8-4 party line vote.
Then, it was the Assembly’s turn, with many of the same arguments and complaints coming from the Republican side. As the members of each party explained their vote, things got chippy near the end of the proceedings when Assembly Republican Budget Officer Hal Wirths, R-24th District, took exception to the Democratic boasting of the bill, accusing them of being like Robin Hood taking from the rich and giving to the poor.
“This tremendous tax-taking is from the taxpayers,” said Wirths. “You took $10 billion too much of their money and now you’re acting like heroic heroes returning their money. You took the $20 out of their pockets and you give them four bucks back and you’re all cheerleaders. It’s nothing to be proud of folks. This money wasn’t your money. This was taxpayers’ money.”
Pintor Marin spoke right after Wirths, before closing out the session, saying she respects her Republican colleagues while defending the budget plan.
“This is not a Robin Hood, taking from the rich to the poor. It’s not about overtaxing people,” said Pintor Marin before voting. “I think we’re going to have much more discussion on Wednesday. And I would be remiss if we’re going to stay here and keep talking about it and discussing this. At the end of the day, I think that we should be proud of some of the things that we’re doing today.”
After thanking the hardworking staffs, the Chairwoman gaveled close a wild day in the state capital.
Following the proceedings, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, released a statement.
“I am pleased with the work of the Budget Committee led by Chairwoman Pintor Marin today,” said Coughlin. “We have advanced a budget bill that will deliver for the working and middle-class people and families of our state. Our planned investments build meaningfully on the Governor’s proposal and months of public input to support New Jersey communities now and into the future. Representing a steadfast commitment to fiscal responsibility and answering the call for greater affordability with historic tax relief, I will be proud to put this bill up for a vote in the Assembly.”
And after a long Monday in Trenton, the general public and business community will have a short window to digest the full scope of the budget bill before it moves to its full legislative vote Wednesday at the statehouse.