WEEKLY ADVANCE – Catch your breath. The dust is settling on the madcap budget blitz – this one occurred by day, not by night as has been the case in years past. Democrats are gathering data for anti-Christie campaign lit right now, with doomed line-item veto overrides looming so that they can tack the name of [INSERT GOP LEGISLATOR HERE] on the mailers.
The Senate will begin its attempted override votes on Thursday, and will break up the votes into categories – like education cuts and health care cuts – and drag them out over the summer. The Assembly is expected to follow suit to some extent.
The particulars of the budget are still being sorted out, with Gov. Chris Christie cutting $200 million beyond the $700 million that Democrats built into the document as a politically-convenient sacrifice at the fiscal alter. A Christie confidante said the governor offered up a fair budget at the onset of the process, evident by the fact that Democrats did little to change the Christie budget, mostly opting to overlay their spending on his.
So, the source said, Christie was agitated that the highly-political budget set-up came his way, and reacted in turn. Democratic initiatives were handed to him so ostentatiously that Christie was left in a political bind, sources said. The chief executive had no choice but to punch back a little harder than his opponents, the source said. Even small budget inserts that benefited South Jersey and Essex County ‘Christiecrats’ “got a haircut,” as one front office staffer put it.
The politics of budgeting are hardcore; real people get hit with pay cuts, job losses, or decreased services every time someone throws a political budget punch in Trenton, so fallout from the budget may be hairier than the passage and approval of the document. Insiders always offer the caveat when analyzing the budget, though: it’s just a budget blueprint, not an absolute edict.
It may not come as solace to anyone involved at the Wynona Lipman Child Advocacy Center in Essex County, which lost all of its $537,000 in funding even though it wasn’t inserted in the budget by the Democrats. Allegations of politicized payback are swelling in this case, since the center’s chairwoman, Nancy Erika Smith, has called for the impeachment of the governor and is advocating for ethics charges against one of his allies in the Legislature. Smith is legal counsel to Public Defender Yvonne Segars, who claimed Christie tried to force her out of her non-political office earlier this year. On Segars’ behalf, Smith called for Christie’s impeachment, and on her own behalf wrote letters to newspapers that were very critical of the governor.
As a member of the legislative ethics commission, she also recently voted in favor of the board pursuing charges against Republican Assemblyman Scott Rumana, an ally of the governor, with an ethics violation stemming from a complaint they have been hearing for months.
Even if they weren’t political in nature, some of the cuts made by Christie were equally curious, like elimination of $46 million for Tuition Aid Grants. Democrats added $21 million to the governor’s proposed $25 million up-tick in student grants, but Christie removed the entirety with a line-item veto. Similarly, Christie chopped legal services for the poor by $10 million, half of which was added by the Dems and half of which was already planned to be appropriated by the administration.
Christie is taking off for Idaho and Utah next week, so expect little excitement on the executive front, at least until the Attorney General digests and responds to the U.S. Department of Justice memo on the prosecution of medical marijuana programs. Given the unclear legalese in the memo, that could take a week.
So take the time to catch your breath, and while you’re at it, double-check your budget appropriations.