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Gov. Phil Murphy. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Murphy not guaranteeing budget agreement by June 21

Budget talks still not expected to draw much drama

By Nikita Biryukov, June 14 2021 2:36 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy isn’t guaranteeing a budget deal by June 21, the date marked as a finish line for this year’s negotiations by legislative leaders.

“I don’t know that I’d marry myself necessarily to the 21st, but I think the Senate president, the speaker and I and our teams are committed to not just doing a responsible budget but also doing it well short of the one-minute-of-midnight we do too often in New Jersey,” he said during Monday’s virus briefing.

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) earlier this month said lawmakers were aiming to complete their budget negotiations by next Monday, a date that falls short of a typical New Jersey practice that sees budgets approved on the eve of the deadline.

Details about budget negotiations remain scarce amid a revenue swell that has left the state with $4 billion more in collections than officials anticipated, though officials within the front office and both chambers of the legislature on Monday signaled a June 21 finish line may be just a little optimistic.

The governor appeared to share that view.

“I would say sooner than later,” he said. “I don’t recoil at that date, but again, we want to make sure we get it right.”

Deciding where the collections windfall and $6 billion in federal dollars will go has proven complicated.

Murphy on Monday said he would favor boosting funding levels for the Homestead Benefit Program, which provides tax rebates to homeowners, and both the governor and Senate president have expressed willingness to increase the state’s pension payment past full $6.4 billion appropriation Murphy proposed in February.

Despite the complications, negotiations are not expected to drag on until the end of the month as of Monday. The state’s better-than-expected financial position means lawmakers won’t have to jockey over tax hikes as they have in years past, and this year’s elections gives them an incentive to complete the work quickly and with as little pain as possible.

But they’re also mindful about avoiding fiscal cliffs that could crop up if revenues fall in future years. Sweeney raised future budget years as an issue last week, and he and the governor share a mind on the issue.

“You don’t want to just because we have some money in this year’s budget to start a program that we can’t sustain, and I feel strongly about that and, apparently, he does as well,” Murphy said.

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