(Almost all) Democratic legislative leaders praise budget deal

Weinberg, annoyed there was not more funding for NJ Transit, breaks with leadership

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Senate Budget Chair Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) praised the state budget introduced Monday as a responsible spending plan that will provide relief, spur economic growth, pay down debt and set aside sufficient reserves to avert a future fiscal cliff.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge), Majority Leader Louis Greenwald (D-Voorhees) and Assembly Budget Chair Eliana Pintor Marin (D-Newark) called it responsible and fair.

The Senate majority leader — the always outspoken Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) — had other thoughts. She couldn’t believe that New Jersey Transit did not get additional funding.

“This was the time to fund our infrastructure,” she said. “Everybody else has got a portion of this money, and to not put NJ Transit is absolutely mind-blowing. It’s bad government, bad politics, bad for our future — in case I hadn’t said anything about how I really feel.”

Weinberg said she wasn’t even sure if she will vote for the budget. Not that it will matter. The Democrats have more than enough votes to pass it. And plenty of support.

Sweeney said it works on a number of levels.

“It provides relief to those who need it, makes strategic investments to boost our economic recovery and sets aside billions of dollars to pay down higher-cost debt and avert future borrowing,” he said.

“Most important, it restores the Rainy Day Fund, puts extra funding into the pension system upfront to save on future costs, and provides a multiyear surplus to avert a future fiscal cliff when this unprecedented flow of federal aid ends. Furthermore, it requires legislative approval for the future expenditure of billions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan.”

Notable items in the budget include:

  • $500 million for rental assistance;
  • $250 million for utility relief;
  • $600 million over three years to provide an additional year of special education for 22-year-olds with disabilities;
  • $180 million for HVAC improvements to schools;
  • $100 million to expand child care.

The budget not only completes the ramp-up to full funding of the actuarially required contribution to the state’s underfunded pension system for the first time in two decades, but also adds $505 million to cover the cost of lowering the expected return-on-investment for pension assets from 7.3% to 7% a year early, lawmakers said.

The budget also creates a Debt Defeasance Fund that includes $2.5 billion to pay down higher-cost debt and $1.2 billion to be allocated to avert unneeded future debt increases by covering the cost of capital projects.

In addition, there is the $500 rebate that more than 760,000 families will receive this summer.

All of these numbers are subject to last-minute negotiations, but it’s hard to imagine many changing much.

Coughlin certainly gave it his vote of approval.

“While prioritizing taxpayers and getting relief to those needing it most, we’re also positioning our economy for even stronger recovery and growth,” he said.

Pintor Marin agreed.

“Through the combined spending and savings generated in this budget, we are producing a balanced budget that will support New Jersey’s priorities not just through this year, but beyond,” she said. “It includes a plan for responsible use of the one-time federal aid we received, creating support for individuals and communities made most vulnerable by the pandemic.

“By offsetting debt risk without raising taxes, we are ensuring New Jersey fulfills its responsibility to produce a fair and robust expenditure plan.”