Dems push agenda through Legislature amid some budget fears

Hallways were clogged with advocates and activists. It’s Thursday in Trenton, and Democrats are mowing through a full agenda of bills, some that have been baking for years and others that have received the microwave treatment. Everything from paid sick leave, patient protections against out-of-network bills, real estate deductions, reinstating Urban Enterprise Zones, a controversial nuclear subsidy bill and dozens more.

On the paid sick leave bill, New Jersey Citizen Action Associate Director Dena Mottola Jaborska led the celebration.

“We’ve been working on this for about a decade. Chris Christie was against the bill and with Gov. Murphy sitting in the governor’s seat, we have the opportunity to not only pass it, but to see it signed,” Mottola Jaborska said.

The bill to protect patients who suffered from sticker shock after learning that the medical services they received weren’t covered because they were out of network is a bill that Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin shepherded through the Legislature.

“What this bill will do is provide what I think is appropriate. The patient will be removed from that process by virtue of not having to be balance billed and the provider and the health care provider will work it out between the two of them and there’s a process that allows them to do it if they can’t resolve their dispute,” Coughlin said.

Republicans, who can only look on as Democrats run the legislative and executive branches, registered dismay at the taxing and the spending they say all this lawmaking represents.

“There’s one slight attempt by the Democrats to increase your deduction for state and local taxes, but it’s not enough. This is typical with Phil Murphy. I call him ‘million-dollar Phil’ now. It’s just more spending and more taxes. I don’t think they’re getting the message,” said Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick.

Senate Budget Committee Chair Paul Sarlo has been preaching a similar sermon. He supports almost all of the Democrats’ initiatives.

“There’s revenue needed to solve that structural debt in the budget and then there’s revenue to support new programs and what the happy medium will be. Some of these programs are good programs, it’s an investment in our future and we haven’t done that in a long time. So listen, we’ll get there. Everybody need to take a deep breath, take it a little bit slower,” Sarlo said.

On the controversial $300 million nuclear subsidy bill, pushed by the Senate president despite complaints that it’s a handout to a big, profitable utility at ratepayers’ expense, Sweeney wasn’t talking today, but the Dems say its necessary and will protect ratepayers.

“I recognize that there’s going to be an important process in that. I think we put enough resources in place to allow the BPU [Board of Public Utilities] to do a good and thorough job of reviewing it, so yeah, I’m comfortable with that,” Coughlin said.

Despite Thursday’s relatively easy votes, the difficult budget process still looms, and relations between the leadership of the majority party and the executive branch remain on edge.

The Assembly doesn’t have another voting session until late May and the Senate won’t gavel in again until early June. In the world of Trenton politics, that’s a lifetime, and what the landscape will look like then is anybody’s guess.

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