TRENTON – Legislators kicked off the budget process Tuesday when Senate lawmakers met for the first public hearing on Gov. Chris Christie’s $32.9 billion spending proposal.
The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee is hearing today largely from municipalities and the state’s health care community as it begins the “fact finding” process on crafting a budget, said Sen. Paul Sarlo, (D-36), chairman of the committee.
“Everybody is working off an executive summary,” he said, explaining the Fiscal Year 2014 budget process for lawmakers is in its infancy.
“This is the early stages,” he said. “Clearly the folks who testify, their testimony weighs on all of our minds.”
Municipal leaders indicated they will again lobby lawmakers to support legislation that would require the state to send energy tax receipts payments directly to municipalities.
Officials argued declines in property values, a staggering economy and high unemployment have hurt municipalities that are operating under a 2 percent property tax cap, said Janice Mironov, president of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities.
“This year again, respectfully, we ask the members of this committee to, at least, begin to restore the $331 million that was diverted from these property tax relief programs to meet state needs in FY 2009, 2010 and 2011,” she said. “New Jersey property taxpayers have already waited too long for the return of these resources.”
The diversion of energy tax receipt dollars to state coffers is not the only area municipalities say the state is sweeping local funds.
Mironov also said municipalities are concerned with the governor’s proposal to divert $21 million from the State Recycling Fund to the general fund.
“A $3 per ton tax levied on the owner or operator of every solid waste facility as well as on solid waste collectors … provides for the funding of this program,” she said. “The statute specifies that no less than 60 percent of the proceeds must be returned as tonnage grants to municipalities and counties.”
Health care advocates and officials representing developmentally disabled residents praised the governor’s acceptance of the federal Medicaid expansion and urged lawmakers to retain funding levels laid out in Christie’s budget proposal.