Home>Highlight>Budget bill goes to Murphy’s desk after party line votes

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, left, with Senate President Steve Sweeney. (Photo: Courtesy of the Governor's Office.)

Budget bill goes to Murphy’s desk after party line votes

By Nikita Biryukov, June 24 2021 4:01 pm

Democrats’ $46.4 billion spending bill is headed to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk after clearing both chambers in party-line votes Thursday afternoon.

The bill passed the Senate first in a 25-15 vote that saw all members stick with their caucuses before clearing the Assembly in a slightly narrower 49-26 vote that also fell completely along partisan lines.

“I’m proud of the work done in partnership with the Governor and Senate President to produce a fair and responsible budget that looks toward greater economic vitality and growth that will benefit every New Jerseyan,” Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) said.

Floor debates in both chambers touched on the opaque track the bill took. It cleared budget committees in both chambers mere minutes after the full text of the 280-page bill became publicly available.

Republicans took issue with the process, saying it offered little opportunity for public comment or review, while Democrats argued changes to the budget were limited to small portions of the voluminous spending bill.

“Today’s $46.4 billion budget vote is the epitome of opaque government in Trenton. It’s another example of backroom deals and the public being shut out of the process by the legislative Democratic majority,” State Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-Totowa) said in a statement. “New Jerseyans deserve better. They deserve real transparency.”

It included election-year tax rebates that could help lawmakers at the polls, including a $319 million program that’ll afford New Jerseyans with dependents tax rebates of up to $500 and a boost the Homestead Benefit Program, which was updated to use tax bills from 2017 instead of 15-year-old ones from 2006.

It also features a $3.7 billion fund filled with money lawmakers bonded late last year in anticipation of a COVID-fueled fiscal tumble that never materialized.

Instead, collections surged $4 billion above forecasts. Coupled with roughly $6 billion in federal aid under the American Rescue Plan, the stimulus bill President Joe Biden signed into law in March, that left the state with a surplus of roughly $10 billion.

Some of that money is being kept in reserves. The state’s rainy-day fund, which Democratic leaders planned to leave empty, will instead have a $1.3 billion balance, while the unrestricted surplus will see a balance of roughly $500 million.

In typical New Jersey fashion, the budget included millions of dollars in line items sought by legislators and the administration, commonly referred to as “Christmas Tree” items after the boon they provide to lawmakers whose districts they grace.

Budget resolutions required to be released two weeks before a final vote on the appropriations bill are not public. Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) said he would release those resolutions from his chamber tomorrow.

Gov. Phil Murphy has until June 30 to sign the bill if he wants to avoid a legislative shutdown. He’s expected to sign the bill next week.

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