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UPDATED: Christie, Legislative Dems reach budget deal

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Legislative Democrats reached a deal today with Gov. Chris Christie's administration on a $32.9 billion budget for fiscal 2014.

Paul Sarlo

The budget cleared the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee shortly after the agreement was announced. The budget continues a number of business-friendly tax changes, but doesn't include an income tax cut, which Christie has repeatedly sought in the past two years.

In announcing the deal, Senate Budget Chairman Paul A. Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) said he was pleased to reach a spending pact 10 days before the constitutional deadline. He said the early finish required a lot of compromise.

"I don't believe anybody should be overly excited that this is a budget that funds all of our priorities, but it is a balanced budget, and it is the product of negotiations, good-faith negotiations between all of the parties," he said.

The Assembly Budget Committee also voted to release the budget during a mid-afternoon hearing.

The total size of the budget is almost unchanged from the one introduced by Christie in his February budget address. Sarlo said the final budget constitutes a net increase of $55 million from the original draft, but he said that change had to do with the opening balance for the coming fiscal year. He said there was $97 million in additional spending added to the final draft, but said that was offset by cuts.

Business groups have generally applauded the deal, because it leaves in place a reduction in the minimum filing fee for S corporations, the continued phase-in of single sales factor tax reform and the phase-out of the Transitional Energy Facilities Assessment, among other changes.

State Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-Denville) the GOP budget officer, said the budget was "a good step."

Chris Christie

"This budget is a positive sign that Democrats in this Legislature are now all on board with New Jersey's economic turnaround, led by the Christie administration," he said in a statement. "It's unfortunate the budget lacks a much-needed tax cut and an opportunity scholarship program, but it proves that together we can position this state for economic growth instead of just growth in government."

The Opportunity Scholarship Grant is a school-choice program that would have used corporate tax credits to fund scholarships for students in underperforming districts, thus giving those students the opportunity to switch to charter schools or other options. The program has been championed by Christie, but was left out of the final budget.

Sarlo made a point of saying he was forced to comply with Christie's revenue projections for the year, even though Democrats have long considered the governor's projections to be too optimistic.

Sarlo said the governor was also too optimistic about Internet gaming, which Christie originally said would bring the state $180 million. The final budget draft anticipates revenues of $160 million for the year.

"I still believe we will fall way short of that, but we won't know that until next spring, of course, when we begin the next year's budget," Sarlo said.

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