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Grapevine

Grapevine: Budget season blues are a familiar tune

In the 1993 cult classic “Groundhog Day,” star Bill Murray is trapped in a time loop, forcing him to relive the same Feb. 2 day over and over.

As budget season approaches in New Jersey, the film is more than just a timely reference. It is pretty much reality, year in and year out.

This budget season, says one source, “is going to have some tough issues.”

If that sounds like the overstatement of the year, that’s only because we’ve been hearing the same mantra for what seems like an eternity in the Garden State. But rather than cast aside the upcoming budget season as just another difficult one in a string of tough years, it’s important to realize that New Jersey does still have a lot of unresolved fiscal issues left out on the table.

Last year, the calls for transportation funding were deafening, finally leading to a formidable plan to replenish the Transportation Trust Fund through a 23 cent-per-gallon gas tax increase.

But, as one source notes, this is no time to get complacent, especially for those who supported the gas tax hike.

More than ever, the state’s business community will be imploring legislators to “stay the course,” and not look to reverse or retroactively adjust any part of the new funding plan.

The same goes for the state’s plan to gradually repeal the estate tax, move that was heralded at the time by the business community and seen as a trade-off of sorts to those upset about the gas tax.

“Don’t do a gut check and say we’re in dire straits,” one source warned as a message to legislators.

Campaign talk not helping

Similarly, some folks in the state’s business community are also a little concerned at the moment about tough talk in the upcoming gubernatorial campaign season potentially having an impact on favorable policies put forth over the past year.

With some in Trenton bracing for a heated contest leading into the summer months, many are wondering what the candidates will cling to in an effort to gain public support.

The gas tax, unfortunately for some in the business community, has already been a political bargaining chip. Democratic frontrunner Phil Murphy has previously accepted the measure as a necessary evil, but Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno has repeatedly condemned it publicly.

But, then, Murphy has also criticized estate tax repeal in the past, likening it to just another tax break to the rich.

“We’ve seen a little bit of it (already),” said one source in the business community, referring to campaign rhetoric.

Sources say they are slightly concerned about candidates using the campaign trail to revitalize some opposition to policies that some think are “done and over with.”

Be careful of what you wish for during campaign season, says another source.

“That’s very nice and very noble ... but how are you going to pay for all of this?”

Changes at NJHA?

The New Jersey Hospital Association is poised for some dramatic changes as its current leader, Betsy Ryan, is ready to walk out the door this year.

When Ryan announced last year that she would retire from her post as CEO and president in 2017, aside from looking to fill her spot, the industry and key members are also keen on revamping — or as one insider put it, giving “a laser focus” to — the mission of NJHA.

Industry experts have long been torn on approval of Ryan’s work — some say her job is as tough as herding cats, and that her members’ needs are too varied, while others say she does a fantastic job and can eloquently relay the interests of her members for the State House.

But what is very evident is, those in charge of finding her replacement are also looking to make other changes.

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