Porkapalooza or reflecting NJ needs? Legislature approves billions in spending
TRENTON – New Jersey’s most unusual state budget season ended in standard fashion Thursday, with the $46.4 billion spending plan sent to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk in a party-line vote.
Budget hearings were pushed online due to pandemic restrictions. A typically cash-strapped state saw revenues exceed expectations by billions of dollars. The treasurer didn’t appear before lawmakers after final income tax payments. Committees approved the budget within 15 minutes of it being finalized.
Democrats were able to fund a wide swath of election-year priorities, including a $6.9 billion pension contribution, expanded eligibility for FamilyCare seniors’ prescription drug programs, tax cuts on retirement income and college costs and stimulus payments to family households.
“It’s really more than just a spending plan,” said Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen. “It is also a plan for savings, for debt reduction, which you’ve heard me say numerous times was one of my number one priorities, for tax relief and for investing in our future.”
“This budget reflects this state and its needs,” said Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester. He urged Republicans to support it: “When you vote no, you vote against these programs. Would you stand up and say we would like to have these programs in our district? We do not want the people in our district to receive these benefits? We do not think the people in our district will be grateful that some of their hard-earned tax money is coming back to them?”
But Republicans voted no.
Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cumberland, called it a “Porkapalooza,” pointing to more than $400 million in so-called ‘Christmas tree’ spending added to the budget at lawmakers’ request – their identities not yet known publicly.
“This budget again represents an orgy of pork and unnecessary spending and leaves our taxpayers to mop up the floor while they’re being asked to pay it,” Testa said.
“The biggest concern we have to have is the out-of-control spending,” said Sen. Robert Singer, R-Ocean. “How do we maintain that in the future? We can’t. There’s only two alternatives next year. Drastic budget cuts to programs we suddenly said let’s build up or huge, huge increases in taxes.”
“I understand politics, but I also understand that to blow this opportunity today, when we actually had unrealized income, income that we never expected, I am saddened by the fact that we didn’t take advantage of this opportunity,” said Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union.
Assemblyman Brian Bergen, R-Morris, said the 52 Assembly Democrats include 23 public employees, four full-time lawmakers and three retired public workers.
“Thirty-one of you live off the public dime,” Bergen said. “That could be the only reason why you think it’s OK to continuously grow government because you directly benefit from larger government.”
The state’s 2022 fiscal year begins next Thursday, at the start of July, so Murphy has a few days before his deadline to act.