Lawmakers are planning to hold five public hearings across the state over the next month to give New Jersey residents a chance to weigh in on Gov. Chris Christie’s new $33.8 billion state budget.
The daylong events will kick off next week with a Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing Tuesday in Paramus followed by an Assembly Budget Committee hearing in Collingswood on Wednesday.
Other public hearings on the budget will be held in Paterson, Trenton, and Sewell this month.
The public hearings come as lawmakers begin to evaluate in more detail the spending plan the governor put forward last week during a joint session of the state Legislature in Trenton.
Christie’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 would increase spending by about $1 billion over the state budget in place for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. But much of the new spending would be devoted to covering increasing costs tied to public employee healthcare, pensions, and rising debt service.
Christie’s budget proposes holding funding for local school districts, cities, and towns and property tax relief essentially to current levels. It also includes a proposed $1.3 billion payment into the public-employee pension system, which would be the largest in state history. But that contribution would still fall short of the roughly $3 billion payment Christie had previously committed the state to making in public-employee benefits reform legislation passed in 2010 and 2011.
There is some new money in Christie’s budget, his sixth since taking office in early 2010, for a school-voucher program and for addiction-treatment services. Business-tax cuts would also grow from $616.5 million to $660 million.
The budget booklet for Christie’s new spending plan promotes an emphasis on “spending restraint, reform and renewal.”
“Today, the process of renewal is accelerating and New Jersey state government is smaller, smarter and stronger,” the budget booklet says.
Christie has also proposed another round of benefits reforms, but those changes are not directly incorporated into his budget proposal. There are no new taxes proposed in the budget.
In addition to the public hearings on the budget, cabinet members from Christie’s administration will over the next few months come before the legislative budget panels to justify the individual appropriations their departments are seeking in the new fiscal year.
The state treasurer will also appear before the committees in late March to review the revenue forecast and then again in May to outline any budget changes and to update state tax collection figures.
At the end of the process, lawmakers can either adopt Christie’s budget proposal unchanged or send the governor their own budget bill, something they did last year after they could not strike a deal with Christie on a state contribution into the pension system.
Lawmakers and the governor have until July 1 — a deadline set by the state constitution — to adopt a new budget. The constitution also requires every state budget to be balanced, with deficit spending strictly prohibited.
The following is a list of this year’s legislative public hearings on the budget. Those who wish to register ahead of time can do so by calling (609) 847-3105 or by going to www.njleg.state.nj.us.