TRENTON – Democrats in the state Legislature reached on compromise with Gov. Chris Christie on a state budget proposal Monday that is expected to be voted on next week.
The spending plan restores funding for some programs to help students, the poor and the disabled while allowing Christie to avoid any direct tax increases.
“The budget we will introduce is far from perfect and will still be a tough sell among Democratic lawmakers, but the governor should be commended for working with us to take the sting out of some of its most harmful cuts,” said Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester). “Most importantly, this budget will be signed on time, and all the rumors of a shutdown will remain just that.”
“This budget lays the foundation for necessary long-term reforms that will help New Jersey recover from today’s economic and fiscal crisis,” Christie said. “At the same time, as difficult as this process has been, we dedicated ourselves to identifying further budget savings in order to restore funding for programs that serve the most vulnerable New Jerseyans.”
“The improvements we’ve made make this budget plan the best it can possibly be amid this difficult economy,” said Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex). “No one is excited about what this budget does, but it at least has taken several steps toward protecting working class New Jerseyans.”
Not everyone is pleased with Christie’s budget. Steve Lonegan, a former Republican mayor and current state director of Americans for Prosperity, said, “The idea that this Governor is cutting taxes and spending is a complete myth. New Jersey taxpayers are facing a massive $2.56 billion tax hike which is a direct result of this Governor’s reckless cuts to state aid.”
Municipalities and school districts will have to deal with massive cuts in state aid, which are increasing local property taxes. Homeowners are losing property tax rebate checks as the governor tries to transform the program into a tax credit beginning in 2011. Low-income families will see the Earned Income Tax Credit reduced. Even though the state budget proposal does not include any direct tax increases, it will certainly leave less money in the pockets of many New Jersey residents.
The compromise does restore funding for the NJ STARS program, allowing this fall’s freshman class to receive assistance with their college tuition. The NJ After 3 program will received some funding, though it’s less than a third of the money budgeted in the current fiscal year.
Welfare and programs for disabled residents would also receive more funding under the compromise, and the Hagedon Psychiatric Hospital in Hunterdon County would remain open.
The Bergen County blue laws, which prohibit most shopping on Sundays, would also remain in place even though they cost New Jersey an estimated $65 million in revenue. Funding for the state’s Urban Enterprise Zones and some New Jersey museums was also restored.
The funding restorations will be paid for with other cuts or revenue sources, officials said.
Assembly Democrats were unsuccessful in their bid to overturn Christie’s veto of an income tax surcharge on New Jersey residents making over $1 million per year. The revenue would have been used to restore property tax relief for senior citizens.
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