Weekly Advance: Week of March 4

TRENTON – It’s that time again.

The first full week in March marks the first budget hearing for Fiscal Year 2014.

Last week, Gov. Chris Christie unveiled his $32.9 billion spending proposal that calls for an expansion of Medicaid and a boost in school aid and contributions to the state’s pension program.

The budget calls for revenues of $32.8 billion, a 4.9 percent increase over the adjusted Fiscal Year 2013 revenues and leaves the state with a $300 million surplus.  State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff called the projection “conservative.”  That number includes $1.073 billion – 3 percent of the total – in non-recurring revenue. 

Included in the plan is a $1.675 billion pension contribution – the full amount called for under the pension overhaul signed by Christie in 2011.  The budget also calls for more than $8.6 billion in school aid, a $97 million bump over the current budget.

Now, Senate lawmakers will host a public hearing on the proposed budget Tuesday. It will be the first of several by Senate and Assembly lawmakers hoping to garner public input on the proposal.

It’s the only public hearing on the budget planned for the week. However, the Assembly Budget Committee will host a public hearing the following week and both chambers will meet for two additional hearings later this month and into April.

And where the process of public hearings begins, so does the longer process of crafting a budget.

Aside from the traditional response to the governor’s address, Democratic lawmakers weren’t too quick to take any public jabs at Christie over his proposed spending plan.

In private, Democrats said the proposal was little more than maintaining the status quo and indicated they were skeptical of certain aspects but would reserve comments until having a closer look.

The governor wasted little time in taking his proposal on the road and returned to his normal town hall script when he appeared in Montville Wednesday. It was the first town hall since Superstorm Sandy focused on Statehouse politics, and more can be expected to come up as the weeks turn into months.

And what’s more is it’s an election year.

Let the political wheeling and dealing begin.

Weekly Advance: Week of March 4