The enactment of the State’s annual budget this week was the end product of a remarkable and historic mastery of state policy, politics, and the legislative process by Governor Christie that has no equal in modern history – and one we may never see again.
It has quite simply never happened before, that a Legislative Majority would have no role –zero—in the crafting of the appropriations act. In prior years, powerful Appropriations Chairs (Senator Larry Weiss and Governor Kean, Senator Littell and Governors Florio and Whitman) were instrumental in creating the legislative budget bill, with direct input and decisions by their respective presiding officers and majority leadership.
These bills – whose foundations were almost always the Governor’s proposed budget – were negotiated with the Governor until a resolution was reached between the branches, and a budget passed that the Governor could sign with few changes.
The Majority legislative sponsorships of the bills ensured their meaningful input and “seat at the table.”
This year, the Republican sponsorship of the budget ensured that it would mirror the Governor’s budget proposal, and that the Governor would have not only the upper hand – but virtually the only hand – in negotiations.
Even in the most cooperative years, there are always several items at the 11th hour in negotiations over which the Governor and Legislature fail to agree. In these instances, the Legislature will often add these items to the legislation, and basically “punt” to the Governor who can exercise his line-item veto authority over these “undecided” items. Even in 2001, as Senate President Don DiFrancesco passed a budget in the Senate, but as Acting Governor even he exercised his authority to make some “red-line” changes to the document when he signed it.
Incredibly, the budget being passed this year so perfectly matched the Governor’s wishes that he declined to red-line a single item.
This Governor is displaying a complete mastery of the public mood, combined with an uncanny and shrewd sense of the State House “chess game” more appropriate for a second term governor than someone on the job for only 162 days.
More surprises and more upset apple-carts are surely on the horizon.