State Senate President Stephen Sweeney said the number of unsigned bills approved by the Legislature is a factor in his not seating the Republican senator-select. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
As lawmakers finalized New Jersey’s budget in June, Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration and legislators submitted 407 requests for additional spending.
Just one of those requests was denied outright, according to a review of budget resolutions.
The budget add-ons, often referred to as “pork” or “Christmas-tree items,” helped push the final price tag of the state’s budget to a record $46.4 billion.
State Sen. Michael Testa (R-Cumberland), a member of the budget committee who has been critical of lawmakers’ individual spending requests, said the sheer number of items added to the spending plan shows “Trenton Democrats threw everything and the kitchen sink into this budget.”
“Where is the taxpayer justice or fiscal responsibility in that?” Testa said.
Some of the add-on spending requests — 173 budget resolutions — were not included in the budget, but those proposals found their way into the appropriations bill through separate omnibus resolutions.
The sole rejected request asked for an additional $450,000 to pay for five new data-collection staffers in the Attorney General’s office.
The add-ons go toward funding a broad set of programs, with individual appropriations ranging from a few thousand dollars to tens of millions.
Lawmakers can submit resolutions seeking changes to the governor’s budget recommendations until 14 days before the final vote on the appropriations bill. Budget committee chairs and legislative leaders choose whether to adopt each proposal. The governor can then line-item veto individual add-ons.
Legislative rules in both chambers require budget resolutions be released but don’t ascribe a specific timeline to that disclosure. No budget resolutions were made available to the public before lawmakers approved the appropriations bill in June.
The pet projects frequently attract criticism, both because of the benefit they lend to impacted legislators’ districts and their unique position in the budgeting process. Legislative leaders often defend the practice by citing individual spending items that are hard to criticize, like the $10 million appropriated to the New Jersey Cancer Institute’s pediatric cancer center.
“The vast majority — I can’t say 100% — but the vast majority are actually projects that impact people, and for this year we have the ability to help people, so we’re doing it,” Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) told NJ.com in June.
Not every resolution made it through to the final appropriations bill unaltered. A request seeking to appropriate $75 million in federal aid to keep private bus carriers afloat was reduced to $25 million.
Conversely, a resolution filed by Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex) asking for $1.5 million be dedicated to Rutgers University’s Center for COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness saw its appropriation raised by $250,000 in the final bill.
Democratic members accounted for the vast majority of budget resolutions. Republican lawmakers signed onto 15 add-on spending requests, just five of which were backed exclusively by GOP members.
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