Following in the footsteps of the transparency-challenged budget processes that came before it, New Jersey’s state budget for Fiscal Year 2023 was posted in committee in the Senate and Assembly today – and, shortly afterward, cleared on party-line votes. As of 11 p.m., the full text of the budget still has not been posted on the legislature’s website.
The budget, which appropriates $50.6 billion in state funds and $24.1 billion in federal funds, has been under discussion for most of 2022. Gov. Phil Murphy formally kicked off budget season in March with his annual budget address, and the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and the Assembly Budget Committee held dozens of hearings in the months afterwards.
The budget was essentially finalized on Friday; it came close to falling apart again over the weekend, but the ultimate document that legislators voted on today is similar to the one settled on last week.
While it will take more time to fully sift through the hundreds of pages of appropriations, some of the features most lauded by Democrats include the $2 billion ANCHOR property tax relief program, the full funding of the state’s pensions, and a variety of tax holidays and fee waivers, some of which came up for separate votes. The tax breaks are in large part thanks to the state’s multi-billion-dollar surplus, which allowed for significantly higher spending leeway than in past years.
Also included in the budget is language supporting the Joint Budget Oversight Committee, which oversees the spending of some federal funds.
“I am proud of the fact that we’re trying to, little by little, chip away at some of the issues that we’ve been talking about, whether they’re big or small,” Assembly Budget Chair Eliana Pintor Marin (D-Newark) said as she cast her vote today. “At the end of the day, you’re going to see an investment, period, in the state.”
But Senate and Assembly Republicans, who said they only received the full text of the budget 20 to 30 minutes before their respective votes, slammed the process as opaque and uncollaborative.
“It really feels like we’ve been kept out of the equation on this,” State Sen. Michael Testa (R-Vineland) said. “And I just don’t think that’s the way we should be governing… I’m very disturbed and disappointed by this.”
“We are here at close to 10 o’clock, it’s dark out – and I can’t help but feel that my constituents back at home feel they’ve been left in the dark as well,” Assemblywoman Aura Dunn (R-Mendham) agreed.
Republicans had proposed a number of their own budget- and tax-related initiatives throughout the budget season, most notably the set of “Give It Back” proposals floated by Senate Republicans. Senate Republican Budget Officer Declan O’Scanlon (R-Little Silver) attempted to move such legislation during today’s committee meeting, but was shut down.
Tomorrow represents a gap in legislative proceedings, in theory allowing New Jerseyans to review the budget before it comes up for a vote in the full legislature on Wednesday. Since public testimony is only allowed in committee, however, there won’t be any real chance for those outside of Trenton’s inner circles to convey their thoughts.
The governor, whose office has been heavily involved in the writing of the budget, is near-certain to sign it once it comes to his desk; the last-minute drama and threats of a government shutdown present in previous years simply aren’t there this time around.
Senate Budget Chair Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) said after his committee adjourned for the night that he was happy with the final product and expressed confidence that Murphy would support it.
“We’ve got a negotiated budget, there’s give and take,” he said. “If you asked the governor, there’s certain things that I’m sure he doesn’t like in here. If you asked the speaker, I’m sure there’s certain things he doesn’t like. If you asked the Senate, there’s certain things we don’t like. That’s part of a negotiated budget.”
George Christopher contributed reporting.
This story was updated at 8:49 a.m. on June 28 with a correction: the state budget deals with billions of dollars, not millions.