NJ’s ‘shameful’ budget process rushes to approval Thursday

TRENTON – Democrats are expected to approve the state budget of $ 46.4 billion on Thursday, ending a process punctuated by the typical limited transparency on how state funds are allocated.

the 280-page budget bill was not available to the public until late Tuesday afternoon and was addressed about 10 minutes later by a Senate committee. About 16 minutes elapsed between when it reached Assembly members’ e-mail inboxes and it was picked up by the Assembly Budget Committee, where Assembly President Eliana Pintor Marin, D-Essex, asked if Republicans wanted to take a break to read it.

“No kidding, I would ask for a suspension until Monday, if that were to be offered,” said Assembly Member Hal Wirths, R-Sussex. “If it’s going to be just half an hour, an hour, let’s move on.” We would need some time. It literally just hit my email now.

“Well, I’m not aware of giving you until Monday,” Pintor Marin said. “I think the speaker is planning to have a voting session on Thursday. So if you need an hour or whatever you need for today but we would need to do it for today” hui.

“There is no reasonable way to do it. So let’s move on and we’ll vote our conscience on it, ”Wirths said.

Thursday’s assembly session, by the way, has 151 bills standing for votes. It is possible that this will be the last meeting until November, although sessions are currently scheduled for the first days of next week.

The process with the budget bill was only slightly better than what happened with a $ 115 million in additional credit for the current budget that the Senate Budget Committee considered before its language was available to lawmakers, let alone the public.

“All good things,” said Senator Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, of the bill’s appropriations.

“These might all be good things, but no one voting on them knows what good things are,” said Senator Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth.

O’Scanlon said Wednesday Democrats “absolutely don’t care” about government transparency.

“This whole budget process has been the most shameful and deliberate disregard for government transparency that Trenton has ever seen,” he said. “Sadly, Governor Murphy and the Democrats currently in charge of State House are unlikely to do anything to mend this interrupted process. Hell, they created it.

The criticism spans the political spectrum. Progressive groups are planning a press conference outside the Statehouse annex Thursday to “condemn an ​​undemocratic and opaque budget process.”

“What happened today at the Statehouse is truly shameful,” said New Jersey Policy Perspective president Brandon McKoy. “Lawmakers voted on some of the most important bills of the year – totaling tens of billions of dollars in spending and tax breaks for businesses – without any of the legislation available to the public. “

“Their behavior, in an election year no less, affirms how little they care about good governance and basic democratic principles,” he said. At the same time, this should come as no surprise given the non-competitive nature of the New Jersey election.

Murphy, when asked about the speed of budget votes during his coronavirus briefing, said New Jersey generally has a good budget process that includes the unveiling of the governor’s plan in February, followed by a few dozen legislative hearings and d ” frequent sharing of tax collection data.

“Would I be open to some sort of window between posting and voting?” Murphy said. “Yes, this is something I would love to have the opportunity to speak to legislative leaders. In fact, we talked about it. I think that would be a potentially good step.

In 2007, then Senate Speaker Richard Codey set new rules for the passage of the budget that required all proposed changes to the budget proposed by a governor, including the author of each change, be published at least 14 days before the Senate considers a budget bill. These budget resolutions are still submitted annually but are not made public until long after the spending plan has been approved.

Jack Ciattarelli, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, called the budget review a “shameful behind-the-scenes deal” that would not be allowed to repeat itself if elected.

“The fact that our state’s $ 45 billion, 281-page budget was passed 11 minutes after it went public for consideration is offensive and illustrates everything that’s wrong with Phil Murphy’s Trenton,” he said. declared Ciattarelli. “When I am governor, it ends.”

“Under a Ciattarelli administration, I will veto any bill sent to my office that has not been made available to the public and noted for consideration at least a week before a vote in committee,” he said. -he declares. “No more backroom deals that disrespect taxpayers, stifle the free press and embarrass our state. It is high time to restore transparency and decency to the New Jersey government.

Michael Symons is the State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at [email protected].

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