TRENTON – Worry lines writ large on their faces, those Democrats on the other side of the divide of Speaker Vincent Prieto gathered together in opposition their fellow party member as they made the case for why lawmakers must approve the state budget to avert disaster.
Trying to change the storyline from Horizon to the people out there who will lack as a consequence of a failed budget, they fingered Prieto as the ogrish stumbling block to 72 critical government programs or $330-350 million.
And they smacked Prieto soundly.
“I was really troubled. It’s time for leadership, not being a martyr,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3). “The purpose of holding up the budget in the senate is we know the governor will veto it.
“We don’t go through a six month process to say maybe we’ll get one in six months,” Sweeney added. “Really? No. Now. It’s done with being a martyr, and time to be a leader.”
Standing with Senator Joe Vitale, Senator M. Teresa Ruiz, Senator Jim Whelan, Senator Linda Greenstein, Senator Nilsa Cruz Perez, Senator Bob Gordon, Assemblyman Troy Singleton, Assemblyman John Burzichelli, Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt, Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera, Assemblyman Arthur Barclay, Assemblywoman Patricia Egan Jones and others, Sweeney came out of the gate with an introduction of Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37).
Prieto also wants the budget passed, but he refuses to rush-deliver a controversial Horizon bill, which has bottled up his caucus. His opponents said it’s time for Prieto to give on Horizon to enable lawmakers to pass the 2018 Budget.
“I have spent eight years with this governor standing up for principle, but the reality is he is the governor until he isn’t,” Weinberg told reporters. “I sat across a table from him when he held up this list and said ‘If I don’t get the Horizon bill I will redline and go even deeper into the budget.'”
How did a health insurance company become the good guy, Weinberg wondered.
“This is about accountability and transparency. If we’re going to go to bat – if I may use a phrase – the governor said if you give me Horizon, I will sign the budget without one change,” she said. “We are left with a choice. Do we worry about Horizon or do we worry about the people?”
On the heels of Bergen’s Weinberg, Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-6) was eager to frontend load a narrative about a board cross section of support from different regions of the state.
“There is an opportunity here to make a difference,” he said. “There are real priorities in this budget that make a difference for real people.”
Ruiz beat the school drum.
“Really think about what’s at stake – and that’s every child in New Jersey,” said Ruiz, chair of the Senate Education Committee.
Mosquera cited programs in the budget designed to combat domestic abuse.
Author of the controversial S-4 legislation that has stymied the budget process, Vitale said he is willing to work with Horizon but no one has picked up the phone. “They said they are going to kill this bill and if we are going to have a conversation, it will be with the speaker. I have offered very clearly ‘let’s have a conversation.’ That was ten days ago. It’s offensive that they said they have reached out to me. It’s not true. They have not reached out to me.”