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Lawmaker: NJ Budget a ‘Work in Progress’ [AUDIO]

The top lawmaker in the General Assembly said lawmakers are not waiting for a court to rule in a lawsuit seeking to stop Gov. Chris Christie from dramatically slashing the state’s contribution to the public employee pension system. Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto insisted the legislature is moving forward in an effort to produce a balanced budget for Fiscal Year 2015 by the midnight June 30 deadline.

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NJ Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto
NJ Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto (David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ)

“The budget is a work in progress,” said Prieto (D-Secaucus). “Everything is on the table, as always, and then we’ll see where we are. Difficult times we’re facing right now.”

According to Christie, everything is not on the table. During his monthly appearance on Townsquare Media’s Ask The Governor program Monday night, he vowed he would not hike taxes. Several influential Democratic lawmakers have suggested increasing taxes on the state’s wealthiest residents.

“Obviously, we’re trying to look under every rock to see what we do with this next budget,” Prieto said. “We have to move forward and plan for what Fiscal Year 15’s budget is going to be, and we’re looking at every angle that we can.”

On June 25, a New Jersey court will hear arguments in the pension payment lawsuit. The state was supposed to contribute $1.6 billion, but Christie now plans to pay in $696 million. If the court rules against Christie, it could put this year’s budget out of balance and impact the budget that begins July 1. On Monday, the governor said regardless of the court ruling, there will be no government shutdown.

“A trial court decision is not going to close down the New Jersey government,” Christie said. “We would proceed to pass a budget and continue to appeal.”

If Christie is unsuccessful in defending his position in court, the Fiscal Year 2015 will be retooled. Next fiscal year’s payment was to be $2.25 billion, but the governor says he’ll contribute $681 million. Earlier this month, Christie said there is no “Plan B” if a judge rules against him in the pension payment case. He repeated that Monday.

“There are no alternatives,” Christie said. “Nor have you seen, since I came out with what I said after the budget problem was announced, have you seen any alternatives proposed by the other side.”

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