New Jersey's $32.9 billion election-year budget holds few surprises and big proposals for area residents, but it allows some local school districts to duck expensive special assessments.
"I would describe it as a maintenance budget," said Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic.
"This was the easiest budget," Assemblyman John Amodeo, R-Atlantic, said of the six he has worked on. "There was no partisan bickering back and forth, there was more cooperation and less disagreement."
The state Senate and General Assembly both passed the budget Monday evening, following reported rounds of negotiations between Gov. Chris Christie and state Democratic legislative leaders.
Christie is expected to sign the budget before the fiscal year ends June 30. He and other New Jersey governors previously have exercised their right to veto individual lines in the ballot, canceling programs or adjusting funding levels.
But with both Christie and all 120 seats in the Legislature on the ballot in November, the state budget avoids either tax cuts or new, potentially controversial issues. It is essentially the same budget Christie filed earlier this year, with less than $60 million - or less than 0.2 percent of the overall budget - separating the proposals.
The budget enshrines an earlier decision to either reduce or cap potentially steep repayment increases for school districts that had borrowed from the state Schools Development Authority to build new schools.
Locally, Barnegat Township, Egg Harbor Township, Greater Egg Harbor Regional, Buena Regional, Cumberland Regional each faced six-figure increases. Egg Harbor City faced a smaller increase.
The increases in Egg Harbor Township, Barnegat and Cumberland Regional were large enough that they were an effective state-aid cut. Christie later added $7.4 million to the budget to guarantee no district saw a state aid cut.
Local legislators all praised the restoration, saying it benefited local schools.
The 2013-14 budget is the state's largest budget since 2008, and about 3 percent more than the current budget.
Some highlights include Christie agreeing to expand the state's Medicaid program and save about $227 million by shifting some costs to the federal government under the Affordable Care Act. The state also will increase its payments to the state public pension system by nearly 40 percent to $1.7 billion.
Amodeo said he "respected" the pension payment, saying pension funding was probably was the biggest financial issue facing the state.
Sen. Jeff Van Drew said the state was right to limit pension and benefits, because a fully funded program would eat up about 10 percent of the state's budget, affecting other programs.
Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, said he was glad the state's county colleges will see $3 million more money after absorbing cuts in earlier budgets.
At the same time, Van Drew said, he was disappointed the state has not increased its funding to communities that have significant amounts of publicly owned land, such as many towns in his district along the Delaware Bay.
Amodeo also touted the $3.5 million that would fund two new classes of state troopers that he said was "going to bring back our premier law enforcement agency up to where it should be."
Whelan said he would have liked to have seen more money for education, saying he believed preschool and higher education was still underfunded.
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