As Shutdown Deadline Looms, Some NJ Senators Vow to Vote No on Budget

Senate President Steve Sweeney. Kevin B. Sanders for Observer

Sen. President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said that the state Senate would not vote on the state budget on Thursday, pushing New Jersey one day closer to the June 30 deadline to avoid a partial shutdown of government services.

But, while a vote was pushed back, senators were given the opportunity to express 11th hour concerns about the budget. Sweeney said that floor remarks on the budget would not be heard on Friday.

The budget is the product “cutting three-part deals behind closed doors,” said state Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-Morris). The senator took issue with Gov. Chris Christie’s proposal to raid the reserves of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, the state’s largest insurance provider, in order to fund state programs. Bucco, however, voted yes on the Horizon measure on Thursday.

“I have concerns about placing more regulations on New Jersey’s largest insurer. If we make the wrong move, millions of customers will pay the price,” Bucco said in a Thursday statement. “If there is a chance that the Horizon bill will cost ratepayers more money, we need to take a step back and explore alternative solutions.”

From the Senate floor, Bucco said he was wary of the changes to the school funding formula negotiated by Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) and Christie.

“Senate Republicans were promised a seat at the table. We should have had the opportunity to weigh in on the final plan,” Bucco said. “Many school districts will remain drastically underfunded and others will scramble to cover the cost of last-minute million-dollar cuts, after their budgets have already been set.”

State Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) and Sen. Steven Oroho (R-Sussex) also expressed concerns with the school funding formula, claiming that schools in their districts would be adversely impacted by funding changes.

“This year the solution is that we should not be implementing cuts, certainly cuts that are not transparent,” Beck said of school funding negotiations. “I cannot support the budget that is in front of us despite the many other good aspects.”

Senator Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May), departed from the majority of his caucus and said that he will also vote no on the proposed budget over school funding concerns.

“My problem is… and I just want everyone to understand, that 29 under 30 of my towns lose money under this formula,” Van Drew said. The senator said he is “proud of 90 percent” of the budget but cannot support it due to the impact it will have on school funding.

Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), chair of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, said that he feels concerns about Horizon and school funding should be put aside so that the state can avoid shutdown. According to Sarlo, the budget is “fiscally responsible” and a shutdown would mean that important budget line items like school funding and community assistance could see unnecessary upheaval.

“This is probably one of the best budgets that I have seen this Senate considering in the past 10 years,” Sarlo said. “It is a budget that reflects our core values as Democrats and Republicans. It is a budget that should move forward.”

The New Jersey Assembly also did not vote on the state budget on Thursday. In that chamber, Prieto took issue with the Horizon issue being used as a negotiating chip for the budget.

As Shutdown Deadline Looms, Some NJ Senators Vow to Vote No on Budget