Dems eager to demonstrate party unity with budget after health and pension civil war

TRENTON – After the party factionalism over health and pension benefits, Democrats are intent on swallowing any backwash of bad feeling for one another and lining up behind their $30.6 billion budget in both caucuses, according to sources.

“We’re going to pass the budget (today),” said one high-level Democrat, still nursing that fatigued-around-the-eyes look from last week.

Gov. Chris Christie’s public sector reforms had Democrats cannibalizing one another. Now, with their own budget and a restoration of public safety and school aid, the Democrats are intent on making Christie the bad guy again.  

“We’ll get it through today, but he’s just going to veto it,” said one Assembly rep, in gloomy acknowledgement of the inevitable upperhand wielded by the Republican governor.

In that vein on the budget floor this afternoon, veteran State Sen. Robert Singer (R-30) dismissed the Democrats’ hastily unveiled document as a “fictitious budget.”

Patrick Murray, political scientist and pollster for Monmouth University, acknowledged the Dems’ attempt at a quick-footed public command position again after two weeks’ worth of party division followed by Christie Trenton War Memorial stagecraft.

“There’s no question they’re separating the budget from pension and benefits reform,” Murray said. “Leadership has to show they haven’t strayed too far from their Democratic ideals. There was little doubt the Democrats would come together. The health and benefits fight really did show some clear divisions.”

Following state Sen. Paul Sarlo’s (D-36), of Wood-Ridge, introduction of the budget on the floor of the senate Wednesday afternoon, Democrats rotated the budget turrets at the governor.

“This is a tale of two budgets,” said Buono, a foe of Sweeney’s on health and benefits. “Try as the governor might want to make this about who has more accurate projections, (it’s not).”

It’s about prorities, Buono said.

“We never talk about poor people,” put in state Sen. Ronald L. Rice (D-28) of Newark as he prepared to vote in favor of the Democrats’ version of the budget.

Republican lawmakers, including state Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R-21) of Westfield and state Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-40) of Cedar Grove disputed the Democrats’ numbers, arguing that their budget leans on more optimistic revenue forecasts than the budget endorsed by the governor.

“The governor should veto this political budget,” added state Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-26) of Montville. “That’s what it is… nothing more than a cynical and political ploy to garner favor in an election year.”

Dems eager to demonstrate party unity with budget after health and pension civil war