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Assembly Budget Committee approves $35.3B budget proposal

Friday, June 26, 2015   (0 Comments)
Share | 06/23/15

The Assembly Budget Committee today in a party-line vote approved the $35.3 billion budget Democrats unveiled the day before. During the hour-long hearing today, Republican members of the committee raised concern with increasing taxes, but Democrats said the state has an obligation to public workers to make the pension payment it agreed to in 2010. The main difference between the Democratic spending plan for the coming fiscal year and the budget Governor Christie detailed in his February address to lawmakers is the pension payment. Democrats want to put $3.1 billion toward the pensions – the amount the state promised to pay under a seven year phase-in of larger payments – while Christie has proposed a $1.3 billion payment.

In order to make that larger payment, Democrats have proposed tax increases on businesses in the state and millionaires. Their proposed budget is 8.6 percent larger than the $32.5 billion budget Christie signed into law for the current fiscal year. Republicans argued that taxing millionaires and businesses is not the solution and the pensions have long been an issue and pushed for Democrats to consider additional changes that Christie has been pushing – mainly getting public workers to agree to health care concessions to generate savings, which would then go toward the state’s pension obligations. “To propose these tax increases – we can talk about job loss, we can talk about what it’s going to do to the small business community or what it’s going to do to whoever  has to pay these taxes, but at the end of the day the problem is not going to go away,” Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Burlington, said. Brown said lawmakers from both sides need to come to the table with the unions to come up with a solution.

But Democrats stressed that the state must make the payment and keep the promise it made to public workers when it agreed to larger payments in exchange for employee concessions in 2011. Committee Chairman Gary Schaer, D-Passaic, sponsored the budget bill and said he’s not happy with it, but it’s the best option considering the circumstances. “None of us is excited, pleased, happy or even gratified about voting for more taxes,” Schaer said. He said lawmakers are in a difficult situation because they have to come up with a way to fund the pension payment and state programs. “What exactly are we cutting,” he asked. “Are we cutting education, higher education, K-12, developmental disabilities, human services, hospitals, charity care?” He said no one has suggested cutting any of those areas. “If we’re going to have a robust conversation on taxation and tax policy in the state, then let’s have an honest one and a fair one,” Schaer said.



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