Democrats eye $300 million in budget after ‘New Deal for public services

When Ohio janitors went on strike for a fairer contract earlier this year, they looked to Congress as a last resort. But they didn’t count on Democrats threatening to hold up their paycheck for…

Democrats eye $300 million in budget after ‘New Deal for public services

When Ohio janitors went on strike for a fairer contract earlier this year, they looked to Congress as a last resort. But they didn’t count on Democrats threatening to hold up their paycheck for a year, an unprecedented move and a potential political liability for Democrats in November.

Over the past three weeks, New Jersey state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg has summoned senators and Democrats to Trenton to discuss $300 million in state funds that would be paid to New Jersey’s public workers, including certain unionized workers. The money, which would come from New Jersey’s Hurricane Sandy relief fund, is one of the main issues Senate Democrats are seizing upon as the state government inches toward the finish line of 2018.

The special session — called by Ms. Weinberg, a Democrat, and Cory Booker, a Senator in her own right — didn’t just feature political theater, Ms. Weinberg said. “This was because we are in the middle of a marathon,” she said in an interview. “And we had to run through it so we could keep it going.”

Public safety is a top concern on the tax-cutting agenda of Gov. Phil Murphy (D), a Democrat and new governor who took office in January, and has been championing legislation to reduce the estate tax. The Democrats in the state Senate and Assembly, including Senator Paul Sarlo, the state senate president, are supporting the governor’s agenda.

Suffering a poor start to the budget season, a top priority was the announcement in March that the state would not be transferring more than $200 million to the Treasury from a reserve fund set aside for a contingency. Then, May’s state Supreme Court decision, in favor of a union in an Employment Relations Board arbitration, suspended the benefit of New Jersey’s unemployment benefits as of June 1.

The state’s budget remains well short of the $37.4 billion New Jersey residents sent to Washington in 2018, but Gov. Murphy vowed on June 16 to have a budget passed by September 1. The Associated Press reported that the governor’s administration is eyeing a deal that would include a casino referendum, which state residents are required to approve before casinos can come to New Jersey, in a November ballot question. Mr. Murphy is also seeking to end a requirement that homeowners spend as much as 10 percent of their net worth on their home.

Weinberg has pushed to keep that annual home tax exemption from being raised, and also extended a state takeover of Atlantic City, a casino city. Her renewed focus on her union constituents helped Ms. Weinberg form a coalition of 24 unions representing some 70,000 state workers.

“This is a traditional union and a traditional campaign,” she said. “That’s all it is, a traditional union, traditional campaign. But we’re going to the door every day and taking one more vote before we say ‘Go ahead, give them the ball.’”

Brian Theodorakis, New Jersey president of the Communications Workers of America, Local 1239, said he would not accept $300 million “off the backs of every New Jersey worker.”

But he’s optimistic that, after negotiating for seven months with the state and hammering out “some pretty impressive things,” his union will score a better deal.

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, where Democrats have a better shot at winning governor’s office in November, a special election this June 19 yielded surprise results that gave a major advantage to a Republican challenger who is no longer a candidate.

Max Pizarro, the editor of The New Jersey Press Media, a progressive advocacy group, wrote on Twitter that this creates “the most unprecedented sitting governor term limit in history,” and no Democrat with statewide ambition stands to benefit from the Pittsburgh-based port authority.

“Politically, the legislature will likely have to go along with a lot of Murphy’s agenda,” said Assemblyman Craig Coughlin, a Democrat from Philadelphia. “I’m probably more optimistic about the possibility of that than anyone else.”

Governor Murphy hasn’t changed Democrats’ plans in any way, he said. “I can’t see that change, other than there will be a broader support to bring new ideas to the table, and a much more collaborative relationship with the legislature.”

Read the full story at The Washington Post.

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