New Jersey Legislative Panels OK $30.6B Budget

TRENTON, N.J. -- A $30.6 billion proposed state budget -- championed by Democrats as responsible but opposed by Republicans who called it reckless -- advanced in both houses of the New Jersey Legislature Monday, with final votes set for Wednesday.

Separately, both houses forwarded a two-year surcharge on millionaires for votes before the full chamber. Republican Gov. Chris Christie has said he would veto the tax.

Democrats who control the Legislature decided last week to reject the budget Christie proposed and draft their own version. The Democrats' budget provides a more generous aid package to public schools, provides $50 million in grants to towns and cities experiencing crime spikes and restores funds to nursing homes and women's clinics.

It is about $1 billion higher than the budget Christie proposed and relies on revenue forecasts that the governor says are too optimistic. That's significant because spending must match revenues in the state budget.

Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak called it "the same old tax and spend policies of New Jersey Democrats."

"This is not the fifth year of the (former Gov.) Jon Corzine administration," he said. "It is the second year of the Christie administration, where disciplined fiscal policies and lower taxes will continue our state on the road to recovery. With this proposal, the Democrats want to drive that recovery head-on into a stone wall."

The bill moved through budget committees of the Senate and Assembly the day it was introduced -- three days before the current budget expires. Republicans, who discussed the bill with summary sheets and staffers' notes, complained they were being asked to vote on an appropriations plan they hadn't seen. No Republican supported the Democrats' budget. The bill passed 8-5 in the Senate budget committee and 8-4 in the Assembly.

Democrats who control both chambers advanced a separate income tax surcharge on the state's wealthiest residents, an estimated 16,000 filers who earn more than $1 million each. Assembly and Senate budget panels approved the measure along party lines.

Estimates vary on how much revenue the tax would generate, but Democrats want to use $500 million of the windfall to buttress state aid to suburban school districts.

It may not matter how the money is allocated. Christie has repeatedly vowed to veto such a surcharge, which would bring the income tax rate back to 10.75% for top wage-earners. The surcharge was allowed to expire in the waning days of the Corzine administration.

A balanced budget must be approved and signed by the governor before July 1 or the government technically runs out of money and would be forced to shut down.

The state has been negotiating on a $2.25 billion line of credit to ensure smooth cash flow throughout the year due to uneven tax collections, Treasury spokesman Andy Pratt said.

The money would be used if needed during the first six months of the fiscal year to cover bills.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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