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Legislative Black Caucus airs priorities for budget vote

Sen. Ronald Rice, D-28th.
Sen. Ronald Rice, D-28th. - ()

The Legislative Black Caucus unveiled its 2019 budget priorities Thursday, and to put weight behind their demands its 20 members are ready to hold off voting if their priorities aren’t addressed.

Chair of the caucus, Sen. Ronald Rice, D-28th District, said he wants a “living wage” rather than a $15 minimum wage, free community college, tougher gun laws, more funds pumped into affordable housing and a redistribution of state aid across public school districts.

“We take a caucus vote to do nothing until somebody talks to us. We have done it in the past,” Rice said.

The senator shied away from which policy priorities would be a “line in the sand,” saying he wants to push all of them through the Legislature.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, recently said he’d be willing to shut down the state government for a second consecutive year if his proposal for school funding isn’t adopted.

Sweeney’s plan, which Rice said the caucus supports, calls for “equalizing” state aid to public schools by taking money away from “overfunded districts” and transferring it toward those in need.

Gov. Phil Murphy has proposed a $15 minimum wage and $50 million toward free community college for as many as 15,000 New Jersey residents. Rice said the caucus supports both measures.

Lacking from the caucus’ list of priorities was marijuana. Murphy’s budget calls for $69 million from revenue derived from legalizing recreational marijuana use and expansions of the existing medicinal marijuana program.

Rice, who’s opposed to legalizing recreational cannabis, has said the anticipated cannabis revenue shouldn’t be included in the budget, and since there are many different bills on the topic, the caucus won’t take a stance.

“If the bill doesn’t pass, and the governor anticipates $60 million, and we don’t pass the bill … it means spending time to figure out how to address a $60 million gap,” Rice said.

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JJ Cherry Hill June 7, 2018 4:09 pm

It seems to me that if this group wanted to present their agenda and promise to withhold votes, shouldn't they have announced this earlier rather than 23 days before the budget is required to be passed? Not addressing the validity of any of their priorities, but some things require more than three weeks to resolve.