TRENTON - In less than two weeks, New Jersey's leaders must pass a balanced budget for the spending year that starts July 1.
With both sides hoping to avoid a government shutdown over this year's budget fight, the issues will have to be settled by the end of the month.
Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-Denville) says he's seen those last-minute meetings turn into late nights. "I've seen budget hearings going until 5 in the morning sometimes, so bring your sleeping bag," he says.
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In the last two days, the state Senate and General Assembly have floated their ideas for a budget. Both include a tax on high income earners and both would make a full pension payment to state workers, something Gov. Chris Christie sacrificed to balance the books without raising taxes or making unpopular cuts.
"There was a commitment made to pay this pension," says Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge). "You have to pay the bill."
Some lawmakers say the problem is more complicated than that. "Our obligations keep growing every year," says Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (D). "Our revenues are not growing at the rate they should be."
Last year, Democrats and the governor worked together on a spending plan, and it was completed with two days to spare. The year before that, lawmakers and the governor couldn't agree, so they sent him a bill that was then vetoed.
The Legislature will hold budget hearings next week to discuss their plans in further detail.