New Jersey Democrats Reach Accord With Christie on Budget

New Jersey Democrats, who control the legislature, reached agreement with Republican Governor Chris Christie on a spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo said.

The accord on the $32.9 billion plan, the same size as Christie’s proposal, includes Assembly leaders, Sarlo, a Wood-Ridge Democrat, said today in a statement. Senate President Stephen Sweeney has said final approval of the proposal will be secured by June 24, a week ahead of a constitutional deadline.

Christie’s plan was criticized by Democrats when he announced it in February. Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald of Cherry Hill said it was politicized budget that didn’t address high property taxes or unemployment. The governor and all 120 lawmakers face re-election in November.

“This is a reasonable and responsible fiscal plan for New Jersey that reflects the difficult economic conditions that continue to require hard decisions on state finances,” Sarlo said in the statement. “It doesn’t achieve everything we would want to do if we had a stronger economy, but it accomplishes what is within reach of the state’s finances.”

Medicaid Spending

Spending under the plan would rise 2.3 percent from the fiscal 2013 budget to the most since 2008, according to state documents. The bill passed Sarlo’s 13-member panel 11-2 today, with Democrats casting the no votes. The Assembly budget committee also approved it, 7-1, with three abstentions.

As part of the agreement, Democrats secured $97.2 million in supplemental spending that was offset by a reduction in anticipated health costs, including Medicaid, Sarlo said. Also, it provides an additional $35 million for restructuring higher education, $20 million for cancer research grants and $23.5 million for community health providers and nursing homes.

Sarlo, 44, said he still has concerns that Christie’s plan outspends anticipated revenue. Democrats will monitor state finances in case mid-year cuts are needed, he said.

The governor and the legislature are required by law to enact a balanced budget, and the state’s constitution gives Christie, 50, the power to set revenue targets used in the plan.

Tax collections exceeded budget goals in April for a fifth straight month after trailing in the first half of fiscal 2013, which ends June 30.

New Jersey’s jobless rate dropped for a fourth straight month, to 8.6 percent in May, the state labor department said today in a statement.