Buono defends budget process in face of Karrow objection

MONTCLAIR – Already discouraged that last week’s budget hearings’ kickoff contained what she saw as mostly the hand-wringing of lobbyists and government types citing insider budget figures rather than the input of real-impact New Jersey residents, state Sen. Marcia Karrow (R-Raritan Twp.) criticized the Democrats’ upcoming commissioners’ hearings timetable as morre kabuki theater intentionally designed to squelch debate.

That assessment drew a stern denunciation and denial from state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen), who chairs the budget committee.

A minority party member of the committee, newly sworn into the senate after beating Assemblyman Michael Doherty (R-Washington Twp.) in a special election earlier this year, Karrow questions the Democrats’ time tables for public hearings of Gov. Jon Corzine’s $29.8 billion budget, and especially objects to what she sees as less than adequate slots for department heads to break down their respective budgets.

“I just think there’s a certain orchestration about the time allowance that prevents real discussion with the commissioners about their budgets,” Karrow told PolitickerNJ.com. “I don’t want to feel like we’re glossing over each of the department’s budgets but I think that’s what’s happening.”

Republicans grumble that the budget schedule front-end loads politics in an Election Year, and suggest that the typically independent state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen), a short-list candidate for lieutenant governor, atypically wants to fast-track the hearings to help protect an embattled governor with sagging poll ratings.

In response to Karrow’s and the GOP’s criticism, Buono’s office promptly fired off the budget hearings schedule, prepared and distributed on March 20.

“This is a broad framework,” Buono told PolitickerNJ.com in reference to the schedule. “I am happy to let the debate continue beyond the allotted time as long as the questions don’t deteriorate into people trying to score political points without tackling the real issues.”

Scattered throughout the latter part of next month starting April 15, the six budget committee sessions contain time for two commissioners’ presentations each day, with the exception being April 20, when the budget committee will hear from three commissioners in one day, and April 27th, when four smaller department heads will present on the same day.

Karrow, who’s now fighting a senate primary challenge from Doherty in the 23rd District to secure her senate seat, isn’t convinced the committee has the materials required – namely copies of a full working budget, not just the budget in brief – to absorb those hearings in a meaningful way.

“The majority party doesn’t want to let this budget get picked apart in an Election Year,” said the senator.

But Buono stood by her pledge to extend time for questioning, as necessary – and within reason. “As long as it takes, it takes,” the chairwoman said.

Buono defends budget process in face of Karrow objection