Democratic leaders meet on budget, agree on ‘concept’ they will unveil Monday

TRENTON – Democratic leaders met today in the Assembly Speaker’s office, and said leaders of both houses have agreed on a budget “concept” they will introduce Monday that they said takes into account the needs of middle-class residents more than Gov. Chris Christie’s $29.4 billion spending plan does.

“Somebody’s got to stand up for working-class families…who are in need of property tax relief,” said Sen. Barbara Buono, (D-18), of Metuchen.

She said the Democrats’ spending plan will have “some semblance of sanity” although no specific details were unveiled.

Sen. Paul Sarlo, (D-36), of Wood-Ridge, who heads the Budget Committee, said “It’s too premature to talk about any specifics.”

The meeting lasted for several hours.

At the meeting were Senate President Steve Sweeney, (D-3), of West Deptford, Assemblyman Jerry Green, (D-22), of Plainfield, Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Lou Greenwald, (D-6), of Voorhees, and Assemblywoman Joan Quigley, (D-32), of Jersey City.

Sweeney, among others, declined comment.

However, in an interview earlier today, Sarlo said, “We’re basically out of time. The budget has become a sideshow to the pension and benefits legislation. We want to present a plan that takes into account spending priorities for the middle-class and the most vulnerable residents of our state.”

Sarlo said earlier this morning that the Democrats’ plan will likely call for additional funding for schools that fall somewhere between at-risk and well-off school districts.

“You can’t just provide funding to the Abbots,” he said, referring to the special needs school districts that receive the greatest portion of state funds, as mandated by the Supreme Court.

Leadership has agreed to a budget outline that allows the Democrats to tie-bar a millionaire’s tax to suburban school aid, which almost certainly will be vetoed by Christie, and roughly $1 billion for municipal public safety aid to rehire police and fire personnel.

According to sources, a significant portion of the Democratic caucuses aren’t sold on the school aid plan, and might rather see the millionaire’s tax tied to restoration of the senior property tax freeze.

One source said some of the Democratic leadership members are shopping a plan that would restore school funding based on the percentage of at-risk students, which would exclude all of the public schools in only one statewide district, home of state Sen. Dick Codey (D-27), of Roseland.

Democratic leaders meet on budget, agree on ‘concept’ they will unveil Monday