Senate passes FY2013 $31.7B budget

TRENTON – The Senate passed the FY2013 $31.7 billion budget bill this afternoon by a vote of 24-16.

S2013/A3200 now goes to the Assembly for a vote. The state budget bill appropriates $31.74 billion in state funds and $12.36 billion in federal funds for fiscal year 2012-2013.

Sen. Paul Sarlo, chairman of the Budget Committee, said this is a “smart, balanced” budget that does not spend what the state does not have.  “Economic conditions are far from ideal,’’ he said. “This is the best budget under the hard economic conditions.”

It sets aside $183 million that Democrats say will be used for a long-discussed tax cut should the state’s revenue picture improve.

The plan appropriates $404 million less than initially proposed by the governor during his February budget address and $62 million less than the May revision.  It fully restores the Earned Income Tax Credit, which had been reduced by the governor two years ago. 

The budget will have a $486 million surplus and has plans for a future tax cut when it can be afforded, according to Sarlo. “We all want property tax relief, but we will be responsible and patient in implementing this,” he said. Then plan is not scheduled to take effect until January.

Sarlo called the governor’s expected revenue growth of 7.2 percent unrealistic when most states are calling for 3 percent growth. The state’s jobless rate is fifth highest in the country, he said.

However, the budget plans to restore the earned income tax credit to 25 percent from 20 percent, restores judicial cuts the administration made, as well as funding for health care needs such as cancer screenings, while being consistent with the governor’s budget message in February, Sarlo said.

However, Republican Sen. Anthony Bucco said that the Democrats managed to find $140 million in cuts in order to rededicate money to their legislative priorities.

He said that as a result, this budget is more about scoring political points against the governor than it is about being a responsible budget.

But residents, he said, “don’t want higher taxes, they want us to cut taxes.’’ Jobs and state revenue are coming back, Bucco said in indicating this budget endangers that progress.

And his colleague Republican Sen. Joseph Pennacchio said “this budget treats taxpayers as an afterthought. Everyone in this budget is a winner except the taxpayers.’’

He urged the governor to take out his red pen, in reference to line item vetoes.

Democratic Sen. Barbara Buono said the lawmakers tried to work with the governor but that he has been more interested in making inflammatory comments.

“The governor remains stubbornly delusional,’’ she said, about the realities of the economy.

Democratic Sen. Ronald Rice said he supports the budget although is unhappy with it and the governor’s attitude.

He said “the problem is many of us are not strong enough to stand up” to the governor.

“The governor is wrong about the millionaires,’’ he said in reference to an Assembly-originated bill to reinstate a millionaire’s tax that Christie has vowed to veto because he sees it as a measure that only chases people out of state and harms small businesses.

Republican Sen. Jennifer Beck said revenues are up almost $2 billion over last year, and jobs are up although the state is not fully recovered.  “We are in the process of seeing real change in this state,’’ she said.

She and Sen. Thomas Kean Jr. said the money being “sequestered” by the Democrats for a potential tax cut is money that should be going back to the taxpayers regardless.

“We’re giving a kick in the shins to our citizens,’’ Beck said.