By: Hadassa Kalatizadeh
On Monday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Democrats in state Legislature finalized a whopping $50.6 billion state budget for the Garden State.
As reported by NJ.com, the spending plan had no problems moving through both the state Senate and Assembly budget committees swiftly after being introduced, thanks to the large surplus. The fiscal year plan (S2023) which begins Friday boasts the biggest surplus in New Jersey State history. Several affordability measures are included as well as a new $2 billion property tax relief initiative, a child tax credit program, driver’s license fee waivers, free state parks, and a 10-day sales tax holiday on back-to-school supplies later on in the summer.
The spending plan was announced just before 8 p.m. on Monday evening. Democrats from both of the committees agreed on the budget in late-evening votes following a day of closed door negotiations. On Wednesday, the full state Legislature is slated to vote on the budget, and it is expected to clear on time for Gov. Murphy to sign it into law prior to the deadline on Thursday at midnight. Leaders are not expected to face a threat of state government shutdown, due to any delays. Last June, the previous year’s budget had also slid through without any problems.
The Senate committee approved the plan around 8:45 p.m., about 25 minutes after receiving an emailed copy of the final measure. In the Assembly, the panel also approved the budget at about 10:15 p.m., not long after having received it. The panels voted on the plan before the document was even posted online for the public to see. Some were concerned that this was another display of lack of transparency on the part of the government. “It’s insane” that Democrats would vote on a $50 billion budget “that literally nobody has seen,” said State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, the chamber’s Republican budget officer.
“It’s a shocking lack of transparency that’s meant to deny both the public and concerned legislators from understanding where the money is going until it’s too late,” added O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth). Assemblywoman Aura Dunn (R-Bergen) agreed. ”I just can’t in good conscience … say we passed this in the middle of the night,” Dunn said.
As per, NJ.com, State Sen. Paul Sarlo, the Senate Budget Committee chairman, dismissed criticism that the budget was rushed through. He told reporters that the budget deal’s framework was approved by Gov. Murphy’s administration and top lawmakers on Friday. He said they continued to work out the details throughout the weekend, continuing to work throughout Monday, finally unveiling the completed plan on Monday night.
Previously, State Senate President Nicholas Scutari and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin were negotiating behind-the-scenes with the governor’s office for months. ”I think we’ve had a significant amount of public hearings,” he said. “The affordability pieces have been announced in public. We’re not voting on the bill on the floor until Wednesday. … People will have plenty of time to see it before it gets voted on.” Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic) boasted that the budget includes the biggest tax relief program in years and includes $6 billion in reserves.