As the process to craft New Jersey’s state budget came to a chaotic close last month, rumors swirled about what needed to be done to ensure that the spending plan was final and complete by the time it made it to the governor’s desk.
In each chamber of the Legislature, late-night committee meetings saw budget bills introduced and read into the record with a fiscal plan that would spend $54,324,277,000. But by the time Gov. Phil Murphy signed the legislation and made it the “law of the land” less than 48 hours later, that number had grown to $54,357,547,000…
Should the budget be amended?
Both Murphy and state Senate leadership said the budget was final and no amendments were needed. But is that the case? Has anything like this happened before?
According to Marc Pfeiffer, assistant director of the Bloustein Local Government Research Center at Rutgers University, these “shortcuts in the legislative process are not new.”
Pfeiffer said the discrepancies between the two versions of the state budget bill could certainly be seen as disconcerting to New Jersey voters.
“They are not illegal, but when the average citizen reads about them, they appear to be another abuse of the public’s trust of government. One-offs are often tolerated,” he said. “When they happen repeatedly, they can diminish the underlying agreements between voters and elected officials.”