Already a Bloomberg.com user?
Sign in with the same account.
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Some New Jersey Democratic lawmakers tried to put up a roadblock Thursday to passing a state budget, even as their colleagues were advancing a list of spending additions to the $32 billion plan.
A group of nine Assembly Democrats said they will withhold their votes on the state budget unless a contentious plan to reconfigure the state's higher education system is delayed.
If it works, the gambit could either push back a decision on how to align Rutgers and Rowan universities and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey or force the Democratic majority to search for at least two Republicans to support their budget plans. There are 48 Democrats in the Assembly, where a bill needs 41 votes to pass.
Democrats who control both chambers of the Legislature want to return $66 million in revenue from utility taxes to municipalities, increase a tax credit for the working poor, bump up state aid to nursing homes and to add $7 million to pay for women's health services.
They are also trying to reinstate a tax on income over $1 million to pay for property tax breaks for many homeowners.
The extra spending boosts favored interests and principles of Democrats and likely sets up a series of battles with Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who has vetoed some of the same proposals in the past.
It's all part of the early-summer rite of adopting a state budget. The state constitution requires that be completed by close of business on June 30.
This year, there's broad agreement on most of the $32 billion spending plan, but plenty of disputes around the margins.
Christie's plan relies on projections that revenue will grow by 7.3 percent over the next year, enough for $183 million on the first phase of a tax cut.
Democratic leaders say the governor's estimates are too optimistic, and that the money to pay for tax cuts should be held in escrow until it's clear the state can afford them.
"That's a really bad idea. Business likes certainties, they don't like maybes," said Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick, who said he did not believe Christie would be willing to wait to cut taxes "He doesn't have the patience for that kind of stuff. He wants a tax cut now."
In legislative hearings early Thursday, though, the argument was over other spending.
The Assembly's budget committee advanced a bill to allow the state to borrow up to $3.5 billion over the next four years to help pay for transportation costs that could come in at about $1.2 billion per year. The Senate budget committee has already moved ahead with an identical bill.
Assemblyman Jay Webber, a Republican from Whippany, objected, saying he believes it could be unconstitutional to borrow the money without putting the issue to voters.
Several of the Democrats who voted for the measure did so despite misgivings that the state would be borrowing too much and that there was not a stable long-term funding source to pay for it.
Some advocates said the solution is to raise the state's gas tax — but that debate was left for the future.
Meanwhile, Democratic-controlled budget committees in both houses approved legislation to return $66 million next year from an energy tax to municipalities. The state has been taking a cut of the receipts of the charges paid for utilities to locate power lines and other infrastructure in the towns. Mayors from both parties told lawmakers at hearings that they could use the money to help balance their budgets — or even offer property tax cuts. All the Republicans on the budget committees in both houses voted against the bill, saying the Democratic sponsors do not have a way to pay for it.
And Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon said the governor could veto the measure if it reaches his desk.
The Senate Budget Committee was also expected to vote Thursday to reverse a 2-year-old law that allows the state to claim the value of unused gift cards.
Budget committees of both houses were expected to take up the main budget bill later with votes of the entire chambers expected next week.