TRENTON, N.J. – Democrats in the Assembly and Senate passed a $54.3 billion state budget Friday afternoon that differed from the one they passed late Wednesday night in their respective budget committees.
Amendments were not offered to avoid a government shutdown.
“The budget we are voting on today is different from the one that passed Wednesday night,” said Assemblyman Hal Wirths (R-Sussex), the Republican budget officer before the vote. “Not a single amendment, yet dozens of changes to the budget. Including several items that were not provided on the scoresheet we used to vote or the budget bill that was made available later.”
There were 58 changes to the budget document, five of which were new add-ons that were not included in either the scoresheet – which summarizes differences between the governor’s proposed budget and the final legislation – or the budget bill made available Thursday morning.
“Transparency is a real issue for the Democrats,” said Wirths. “Between the budget committee debacle on Tuesday and Wednesday when we received amendments after the bills were passed, and making changes on the fly without a proper legislative process. It’s just nuts.”
The Assembly Budget Committee moved 50 bills on Tuesday and Wednesday. Sixty-eight percent of them were amended, and four were amended twice. There were 38 total amendments done, the majority of which were provided either while or after votes were casted.
“They try to blame the people who write the budget for the problems, but if they had their ducks in a row this wouldn’t have been a problem,” Wirths said.
Changes to the scoresheet and bill were discovered on Friday morning, less than a half hour before the Assembly’s Friday voting session began. Along with the discovered changes, the budget bill wasn’t provided before the late evening vote. Committee members only used the scoresheet to vote.
“This is a massive problem that needs to be fixed. Transparency is important and right now the legislature doesn’t have any. Every budget is crafted behind closed doors and the public never gets the opportunity to testify. That is the opposite of democracy,” Wirths said.