The budget deal between Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts and Governor Jon Corzine could potentially exempt eight Democratic legislators in the lower house who are anxious to avoid a vote supporting a sales tax increase. Jefferson Van Drew and Nelson Albano in the first district, James Whelan in the second, Michael Panter in the twelfth, and Linda Greenstein in the fourteenth — all Democrats with potentially competitive races for re-election next year — appear to be the leading contenders for the first five slots. The sixth pass will probably go to Linda Stender, a Union County Democrat who is running for Congress this year against Republican Michael Ferguson. Democratic sources say that John Burzichelli and Douglas Fisher in the third, Paul Moriarty and David Mayer in the fourth, and Frederick Scalera and Gary Schaer in the 36th will likely compete for the last two slots. Editor’s Note: Schaer says that he and Scalera plan to vote for the budget and have “never asked” for a pass.