Despite most lawmakers' growing confidence, the compromise on next year's state budget - scheduled for final votes in both houses Monday - is still far from safe. One or two lawmakers admitted this week that budget agreements are fragile things.
State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, a member of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, has listened to hours of testimony for and against Gov. Chris Christie's $29.4 billion proposal.
Van Drew was one of the Democrats who voted the budget out of committee Thursday, and he had a ringside seat to problems among his Republican colleagues.
"To be honest, we've been struck by difficulties over on the side of the governor's party, who can't seem to agree," he said Thursday.
State Sen. Michael Doherty, R-Warren, Hunterdon, on Thursday was replaced on the budget committee, after he refused to vote with his party on a compromise proposal that restores funding for programs such as income support for developmentally disabled residents.
His seat is now occupied by Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., R-Union, Morris, Somerset, Essex.
Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University, said she found the replacement of Doherty to be "pretty extraordinary."
"I can't think of another instance like that," she said.
On the Assembly side, as many as three members voiced similar objections, including Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, R-Morris, who represents the district where Christie lives.
The dissent may be bumps in the road, making Democrats' votes in favor of the proposal all the more valuable. Van Drew and his colleagues in the 1st Legislative District have succeeded in extracting a major concession from Christie, restoring some funding for Urban Enterprise Zones. The reduced-tax commercial districts can be found in Pleasantville in Atlantic County, the Wildwoods in Cape May County, and in Vineland, Millville and Bridgeton in Cumberland County.
But the dissent shows that nothing is certain until the votes are in.
Southern New Jersey legislators have been more outspoken than most in their pledge to vote for the budget, with Van Drew and Assemblyman Nelson Albano, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, putting their names on the line.
Both cited the need to avoid a government shutdown, which crippled state services and some industries, including the Atlantic City casinos, in 2006.
The week leading up to Monday night's tentative budget agreement saw a flurry of e-mails from Democratic politicians to supporters, actively laying out their positions ahead of Monday's planned revival of their millionaire's tax.
Among them was an e-mail from the office of state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, urging supporters to let the district's Republican Assembly members know how they feel about the effects of Republicans' refusal to back the tax and the resulting restoration of the senior property-tax freeze.
Suggesting he had forgotten what district he represents, the link in the e-mail brought readers to the homepage of the Camden County Democrats.
Restoring women's health
Meanwhile, Assemblywoman Celeste Riley, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, has put herself out front in supporting a reversal of Christie's cuts to women's health and family-planning clinics.
Riley, one of southern New Jersey's few female elected state officials, is a teacher in Cumberland County, statistically the state's poorest.
"Who are the people who use these clinics?" she said by phone Friday. "They're often teenagers, whose families unfortunately have no health insurance."
The state funding for the clinics, which amounts to about $7.4 million, does not pay for abortions but does pay for routine medical tests, as well as nurse visits for women and teenagers who might otherwise skip the doctor altogether, she said.
Her Assembly-sponsored bill to reinstate that funding is scheduled for a full Assembly vote Monday, along with the budget bills themselves.
People and Power by Juliet Fletcher, The Press of Atlantic City's Statehouse Bureau reporter, appears every Sunday. Fletcher can be reached at: