At earned sick leave bill signing, some worry over budget battle

They were all there, members of the progressive advocates community, many of whom had worked on today’s paid sick leave bill for years, only to be thwarted by the previous governor’s veto pen. Wednesday, they gathered for another happy bill signing, but behind the high fives and hugs, rumbles of a disconnect — especially between legislative leaders and the Governor’s Office.

“This is the trifecta: women’s health, pay equity and now earned sick leave,” Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg said.

Weinberg put the bill signing into perspective. For progressives, these are the best of legislative times, but Weinberg acknowledges that, going forward, the business of governing — at least the part about agreeing on a state budget — will get tougher.

“There will be some arguing, some disagreements among ourselves, between the Legislature and the executive, but we will get together and we will have a budget that appropriately sets the priorities for New Jersey,” Weinberg said. “I know who the three big kahunas are and, yes, it is critical.”

The kahunas being Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Gov. Phil Murphy, who several sources confirm are still not talking, either directly or frequently. And while no one is predicting an impasse that might lead to a government shutdown, nobody is exactly ruling it out, either.

“At the end, we’ll have a budget as we always do, hopefully not a few days late, and that everybody will be in agreement on the direction we’ve taken. There may be a compromise, though. That always happens [to avoid a shutdown], or certainly a prolonged shutdown,” Sen. Linda Greenstein said. “We don’t want anything like that to happen.”

Murphy said his door is open — “Hundred percent.”

But whether it’s taxes on millionaires, or school funding, or legal marijuana, the governor and the legislative leaders have reportedly not had any substantive talks. It’s prompted Sweeney to call on the governor to get his hands dirty on talks to legalize marijuana, for instance, which is a $60 million piece of the state budget pie. Murphy continues to urge patience, noting that there are two full months to go before the budget is due. Some advocates fear being caught in the middle of the two factions, but, at least one said, a shutdown in the name of a progressive agenda is no vice.

“If we’re going to have a fight, let’s have it over the real things that impact regular people, their bottom line, their ability to stay in their own homes, their ability to care for their families or to put their kids through college,” said Analilia Mejia, executive director of New Jersey Working Families. “So if we’re going to have a real fight, let’s have it over real issues that impact working families.”

When asked about the budget process, the governor used a baseball analogy and said, “It’s only the third inning.” But some lawmakers might suggest a line from an old baseball sage who once said, “It gets late early out there.”

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