Long, Hot Summer for Democrats Looking to Override Line-Item Vetoes

Matthew Kassel | July 8, 2011 | Budget
Democrats admit it unlikely they'll find Republican votes to cancel budget cuts

It looks like it will be a busy summer after all at the Statehouse for Senate and Assembly Democrats.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) announced yesterday that the Senate Democrats will meet on Monday morning — in the first of at least two sessions — seeking to override some of Gov. Chris Christie’s line-item vetoes in his $29.7 billion budget.

On Wednesday, Assembly Democrats said in a news release that they will also hold hearings throughout the summer to gauge what they called “the impact of Gov. Chris Christie’s budget cuts on New Jersey’s middle-class and poor.”

Sweeney did not say which cuts he would take on. There were more than 110 line-item vetoes. Assembly Democratic leaders say they are still working on a schedule of hearings.

The Democrats conceded that they alone will not be able to override the vetoes, but will need Republican votes — votes that are not likely to come their way. Still, that is part of the point. Senate leaders said they expect the override votes will pressure Republicans to go public with their support for unpopular cuts.

While the bulk of the cuts were in school funding, much of the attention has been on specific programs that faced the knife, including prescription drugs for AIDS patients, or women’s healthcare and support centers.

A Day of Reckoning

“Monday will be a day of reckoning,” said state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex). “Republicans colleagues will have an opportunity to make a choice, and to me the choice is very simple. Either stand with working men and women of New Jersey, or you stand with the governor’s politics of retribution.”

The governor’s office yesterday released a statement similar to the one issued the day before, chiding the Democrats’ intentions.

“Rather than attempt to again spend money we simply don’t have, [the Democrats] would be better directed toward the many issues they neglected over the past year — like education reform for every New Jersey child and the unfinished business of the Governor’s property tax relief tool kit,” wrote spokesman Kevin Roberts.

The rhetoric at the Democrats’ press conference was angry. Following up on a weekend of press reports in which he slammed the governor, Sweeney yesterday likened Christie’s cuts to “taking hostages and shooting them to prove a point.”

Buono called the cuts “an act of political retribution” while state Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, called Christie’s actions “political retaliation.”

There is no sign yet that any negotiations over the budget will take place. Sweeney said that he had not spoken to any Republicans about the cuts, including Christie, who is on vacation at an undisclosed location.

Senate Republicans did not stay long in Trenton yesterday, with state Sen. Thomas Kean (D-Union) issuing a statement while the Democrats’ press conference was still ongoing.

“We would not be here if the majority had chosen to negotiate a balanced budget with the governor and legislative Republicans, rather than use the budget process to make a political statement,” Kean’s statement read.

The Senate override hearings will start with a budget committee meeting on Monday morning, followed by a voting session. Sweeney said he expected subsequent sessions later in the week.

“We do not have a lot of time,” Sweeney said.