Archive for the ‘State Budget’ Category

Is it take 3, or take 4 now on women’s health funding? I have sorta lost count. Christie knocked $7.5 million for women’s health funding outta the budget, and Dems ( particularly women legislators ) have been trying to get it restored ever since. They have gotten no help from their women counter-parts in the Republican caucus.

Well, now it appears as though the coalition is fraying in the Dem caucus as well. After the last override, advocates decided on a new approach. they would move some money around, but split the bills in two. One bill would restore the state’s portion, the other would once again go after federal matching funds that would otherwise be lost.

Senator Weinberg signed on for the first bill, and she approached Senators Ruiz and Gill for the second one. Both lawmakers agreed to sponsor it and had their names attached to it…until yesterday when they were mysteriously withdrawn.

So, what is going on here? I have sought the reason, but have not gotten it, which has left others to speculate. Some believe that once again we are seeing the Joe D-Essex County influence here. By now, the closeness of Gill and Ruiz to the Essex machine in terms of gainful employment have been well documented. We also know about the strong alliance between those Essex Dems and Christie. Could this be an attempt by the Governor to snub this issue out once and for all?

Possibly. And while it may not prevent a vote, the Governor can certainly flex his muscle and make sure that his allies in Essex don’t help the process along. Both bills are supposed to go before committee Monday.

Is this all idle speculation??? Enquiring Minds Want to Know!!!

Programming Note: Remember those National Enquirer ads? Ah, those were the early days before magazine tabloids came to be mandatory poolside reading for the younger set.

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When the story devolves into who said what to whom, and who said it first and when, that’s usually when I stop paying attention. I can feel the glazed-over expressions of boredom washing over the faces of thousands of New Jerseyans as they try to discern what happened with the missed opportunity to win Federal Race To The Top funding.

But since this is the first high-profile cabinet firing of the Christie Administration, and since this is not simply insider baseball because $400 million in funding that could have offset deep cuts was lost…it is probably worth examining closely.

We now know that Governor Christie defended Bret Schundler last week in a  Wednesday press conference saying essentially that Schundler gave the missing data to Federal DOE officials during the oral exam portion of the Race To The Top application.

However, the Obama Admin. produced a video showing that Schundler failed to provide the data when asked. Christie subsequently fired him. Here is an email exchange between Bret Schundler and Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Maria Comella. Note, this took place Tuesday night before the Wednesday presser. Schundler seems to tell her that he failed to clarify the data during the oral.

From: Schundler, Bret
Sent: Tuesday, August 24, 2010 5:01 PM
To: Schundler, Bret; Maria Comella; Guenther, Alan; Michael Drewniak; Kevin
Cc: Smarick, Andrew; Blaustein, Michael; Hunter Pendarvis
Subject: RE: NJEA counterpoint

We did not, as the reviewers note, provide Fiscal Year 2008 budget data.

We supplied data relating to Fiscal Years 2009 and 2010, and the Governor’s
proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2011 – cumulatively representing the most
up-to-date financial information on our education spending – but we did not
provide budget information relating to Fiscal Year 2008.

We did not realize the error in advance, and the competition rules did not
permit fixing of the error post-facto.


From: Maria Comella
Sent: Tuesday, August 24, 2010 5:12 PM
To: Schundler, Bret; Guenther, Alan; Michael Drewniak; Kevin Roberts
Cc: Smarick, Andrew; Blaustein, Michael; Hunter Pendarvis
Subject: RE: NJEA counterpoint

When did we realize the error? Did we not notify DOE of the error before we
did our in person presentation?

From: Schundler, Bret
Sent: Tue 8/24/2010 5:14 PM
To: Maria Comella; Guenther, Alan; Michael Drewniak; Kevin Roberts
Cc: Smarick, Andrew; Blaustein, Michael; Hunter Pendarvis
Subject: RE: NJEA counterpoint

We didn’t let the DOE know we had made the error because we didn’t know we
had made it – not until a panelist asked us about the Fiscal Year 2008
budget data.

When we were asked us about it, we checked our appendices.  All we could do
was confirm that we had erred — the 2008 data was not included.

We had instead given them FY 2010 vs FY 2009 data, when what they sought was
FY 2009 vs FY 2008 data.

programming note: I put the email text in bold so we can distinguish what was written by the Administration from what is being written by me. Duh.

So, it all comes down to what was said Wednesday morning the 25th when Christie spoke to Schundler by phone. Christie told reporters today that Schundler told him the exact opposite of what is in those emails. Schundler says he told the Governor not to go out and say he provided the data during the oral since that “information was false.”

Someone is not telling the truth here. Or maybe there was some misunderstanding. It is after all a lot of data – dates and numbers. But neither guy ( Schundler nor Christie ) seems willing to draft a joint statement giving them both some wiggle room here. It’s become a he-said, he-said.

It seems weird that Schundler would back away from what he said in the Tuesday emails. Maybe Comella didn’t convey the info to Christie? Certainly possible, but I have no knowledge of that.

But here is the bottom line: Schundler says changing the info during the oral doesn’t get the lost points back. That is new. Did someone tell the Governor that before his Wednesday presser?

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Ah, summertime. Beaches, Barbecue’s, cold beer and tool kit legislation.

And so it begins. The long budget debate that started in March has carried over into what I will officially call late July. It really is all part of the same conversation. And conspiracy theorists are convinced that Governor Christie has forced this march to continue in order to get people’s attention off the ultra-frugal budget which even it’s biggest supporters describe as “painful.” But the austere budget doesn’t work properly without a cap, and the cap cannot be reasonably enforced without enacting the major provisions of the tool kit. So it really does all go together, and it really is Christie’s entire economic agenda. All. At. Once.

But this process feels sooooo looooong, doesn’t it? It’s like that ridiculous song from the 1970’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” It just goes on and on and on. Like the plot of that movie “Dune.” My goodness. Please,  just make it stop.

Maybe supporters of the toughest tool kit bills are hoping no one has the fight in them when it’s hot outside. And all the shiny, suited-up State House dwellers are thinking more about their upcoming two weeks at the shore than they are about how eliminating civil service will affect their cousin’s municipal job. Yeah, maybe this whole thing is by design. A plot to wear down the resistance and enforce an agenda the gleams with fiscal restraint, financial accountability and the end of living large off the public dime.

Let’s hope so. And let’s hope people don’t come back in the Fall and exclaim, “what have they done??!!” Let’s assume for now that while the changes are being made everyone’s head is firmly in the game. Because in the end, it’s harder to fix things after the fact then it is to get them right the first time.

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Just when we thought there was a budget deal, a handful of defections in the Republican caucus threaten to derail it.

As far as Democrats are concerned, they had a deal with the Christie Administration. The Dem leadership would deliver four votes in the Senate and eight in the Assembly for the Republican sponsored budget bill. In other words all 17 Repubs in the Senate…all 33 in the Assembly would be voting for it. But in order for that to hold, all Republicans must be on the bill, and some are not doing what someone else promised they would.

In the Senate, I am told that Mike Doherty, Jennifer Beck and Diane Allen are holding out. Negotiations are ongoing ( Keep in mind…I could be wrong just ten minutes from now…but at some point on Wednesday that was definitely the case ). There are different reasons at play here, but there are a coupla issues that seem to be drawing the ire of the Repub caucus.  They are called “revenue raisers,” and as far as the Republicans are concerned that is a fancy way of saying ” new taxes.” One bill would establish new business fees, another would allow the government to snatch unused gift certificates. Let’s say someone buys you a gift certificate to eat at your favorite restaurant. You forget to use it, and fail to notice the expiration date. The state would be entitled to compensation for that. Obviously, this has upset business owners particularly the Restaurant Association.

As has already been widely reported: In the Assembly Michael Patrick Carroll and Alison Littell McHose are also no votes. They feel too much school aid is going to the Abbotts and they believe there should be a more equitable distribution to include needy rurals and suburbans ( remember, education is getting an $820 cut in this budget so every dollar counts ).

Anyway, Dems are disinclined to give the Governor more votes, so this may be a real test of his leadership within the party. And if Christie can’t get the Repbs to fall in line and he does come seeking more Democratic votes they will no doubt “come with a large price tag.”

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Well, if they did…perhaps they spoke to soon. And by “they” of course I mean me. Not just me…many others as well. The narrative last week was that the basic framework for a budget deal is firmly in place. But…here it comes…you ready…Here comes the cliche…the devil is in the details. bang.

Apparently last Thursday the principals were supposed to meet at Drumthwacket with Christie to finalize the budget. However, there were some differences of opinion over who that should be. I’m told that the Dems wanted to bring Barbara Buono, Paul Sarlo and Lou Greenwald to which Christie simply said, “no way.”

At issue are a handful of restorations. The D’s have reportedly dropped their ask from $400 to $200 million. But there are still some hang-ups over things like family planning, and no one seems to know what to do about Bergen County. Christie is not ready to concede the point on blue laws, even though both parties up in Bergen seem to want them to stay. The figure is reportedly $65 million in sales tax from allowing Sunday retail, which is a decently large number to fill in the budget. Although during a Senate budget hearing recently David Rosen said OLS “would need to do it’s own analysis” of the $65 million projection, which is a polite way of saying it might be wildly off the mark.

Well, we certainly know that Sarlo favors keeping the blue laws on the books, so that might explain why Christie wanted to keep him away. But what about the others?

All I know is that I hate missing the insider dinner or party. All your friends go, then every time they get together they reminisce about how much fun it was, and you feel all left out. Then they develop private, inside jokes from that night which you will never share or be a part of. Aw Man, I hate that.

Anyway, in the meantime both sides seem to be digging in on the budget. Dems now say they will vote to override the Gov’s veto of the  Millionaire’s tax…and someone from the front office appears to have strategically leaked a memo to the Ledger stating that preparations are underway for a government shutdown.

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In Albany ( which is highly dysfunctional ) the budget process often comes down to “three men in a room.” The Assembly Speaker, Senate Majority Leader and the Governor all get together and bang out a deal, then the members simply vote for it.

Well, here in New Jersey the process is a bit more inclusive. One might even argue too inclusive. The budget is crafted after everyone gets their say which seems like a fairer way to go about it. But this year might be different. I am hearing that Senate President Steve Sweeney is working closely with Christie to craft a deal. Many legislators have now told me that there have been limited conversations with them about what the budget will look like. That could mean that nothing is happening, or it could mean the two leaders are horse trading behind closed doors. I tend to believe the latter. It sounds like Sweeney is quietly getting some of the restorations he wants while ultimately going along with some of the Governor’s big proposals.

So, “two men in a room” could wind up making this deal happen. That’s of course not to be confused the with atrocious 1991 Elton John tribute album “Two Rooms” which celebrated the unique musical collaboration of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. I never really understood why that was such a big deal…I mean one guy does the writing, the other guy puts it to music. Who cares??? I remember everyone making such a big deal about that “magical collaboration” back when the album first came out. And I am not just launching into an irrational tirade because Elton John makes me want crash the car into railing…although I think we can all agree that “The Lion King” soundtrack was a bit much.

Anyway, not to drift too far off topic – two men in a room may very well determine what this budget looks like. And solid evidence of that includes that Sweeney and Christie seem to be the only two guys who insist there will be no government shutdown. Clearly, they know something we all don’t.

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The flip the script moment in the great national health care debate came late in the game. In January, after the Scott Brown victory in Tax-achusetts, it seemed like there wasn’t much of a public appetite for comprehensive reform.

But a couple of months later it was the President himself  who pointed out that Republicans keep yelling from the rooftops ( And by that I mean on Fox News ) that the Democrats will suffer a major bloodbath in the mid-term elections if this massive health care bill ( which besides being enormously complicated essentially expands Medicaid ) goes through. This is from a March 8th NY Times article:

“We may be nearing the final act for this bill and the legislative process,” the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said in a floor speech on Monday. “It’s just the beginning for those who support it. Americans don’t want this bill. They’re telling us to start over. The only people who don’t seem to be getting the message are Democrat leaders in Washington.”

Mr. Obama scoffed at Mr. McConnell’s warning.

“First of all, I generally wouldn’t take advice about what’s good for Democrats” from a Republican, Mr. Obama said to laughter in Pennsylvania. “But setting aside that, that’s not the issue here. The issue here is not the politics of it.”

Of course we know what happened next…the bill was signed on March 23rd. And here is the funny thing…Obamacare may wind up helping New Jersey ( the state which elected the antithesis of Obama nine months after the new prez took office ). I’m told that certain Federal Medicaid rebates ( perhaps up to 8% ) for managed care may become available in the third quarter of this year. That could mean tens of millions of dollars that would help restore funding which will enable the state to make funds available elsewhere and perhaps soften the blow of other proposed cuts.

We caught a glimpse of this recently with the restoration of the Senior Gold and PAAD programs. It appears as though there might be additional monies beyond even that. It might allow the Christie Administration more flexibility with health care dollars and an ability to claim ownership of the economy and the budget just as these dollars are kicking in, and the overall economic picture improves.

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