Lawmakers won’t introduce a budget bill at Thursday’s Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee meeting, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) said.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo (D-Woodridge) said he hoped to introduce the appropriations bill on Monday, June 21, with committee hearings planned in the next day or two.
“I’ll work on scheduling, but I’m assuming sometime that week — Tuesday, Wednesday — we will be in committee here to do the budget,” he said.
Democratic leaders have been negotiating this year’s budget without the backbiting typical of previous years.
The negotiations come amid a last-minute swell of revenues, fueled by better-than-expected tax collections and $6 billion in federal funds, that has them eyeing paying down the state’s long-standing debt obligations.
Legislative leaders and the front office have been in talks about how to use the $10 billion windfall. Though some of that money is expected to go into the state’s reserves, boosting the state’s pension payment past the $6.4 billion proposed by Gov. Phil Murphy is on the table.
“We talked about and it’s still on the table increasing the amount,” Sweeney said Thursday. “Right now, I’m not going to say — again, it’s not done until it’s done, but I don’t think there’s opposition to putting more money in the pension.”
The Senate president said debt defeasance was also on the table. Democratic leaders have faced some criticism from the state’s Republicans after borrowing $4 billion to plug a forecasted revenue hole that never materialized. That debt is noncallable and cannot be paid down early, though it comes with a lower interest rate than other debts held by New Jersey’s government.
Senior sources within both chambers of the legislature and in the administration have told the New Jersey Globe a bump to school state aid, boosts to the Homestead Benefit Program and increased small business aid are being discussed.
“We’ve talked about a lot of different things,” Sweeney said.
The Senate president declined to provide any discrete amounts for the new spending, saying nothing had been finalized as of Thursday afternoon. He also declined to say when he believed the legislature would send a budget proposal to the governor’s desk.
“You have to get the numbers right and you got to get the language right, and once that’s done you can have a real conversation,” he said.
Lawmakers were aiming to pass a budget by June 21, though sources in the legislature and front office over the last week have told the New Jersey Globe they were unlikely to meet that timeline.
The next likeliest date is June 24, when both chambers have scheduled voting sessions, though that’ll only work if they introduce a bill early next week.
There’s little reason to expect last-minute hiccups. Murphy and all 120 seats of the legislature are up for election this year. That’s incentive enough to keep the budgeting process drama-free.