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$32.9B NJ Budget Clears Legislative Committees

(Gov. Chris Christie, in file photo.  Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/ Getty Images)

(Gov. Chris Christie, in file photo. Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/ Getty Images)

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TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A $32.9 billion state budget that includes more money for nursing homes and county colleges but none for expanding preschools or funding women’s health clinics cleared its first legislative hurdles on Thursday and appears to be headed for final passage next week.

The Senate and Assembly’s budget committees advanced the budget bill Thursday. A bipartisan compromise between the Legislature and the governor’s office was reached Wednesday.

Senate Budget Chairman Paul Sarlo, a Democrat, said he was pleased legislators were meeting almost 10 days before their constitutional deadline “to avoid some of the drama that we’ve incurred here in past years.”

“I don’t believe anybody should be overly excited that this is a budget that funds all of our priorities,” he said. “But it is a balanced budget, and it is a product of good-faith negotiations between all the parties.”

On the Senate side, Republicans and Democrats voted 11-2 to advance the spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Sens. Loretta Weinberg and Nellie Pou voted no because the budget contains no money to expand preschool or fund women’s health clinics for the third year. There also is no money in the budget to restore a tax credit for the working poor or fund a pilot school voucher program that Republican Gov. Chris Christie supports.

Still, the negotiated budget is similar to the one Christie proposed in February.

The compromise budget defers property tax rebates for eligible residents for three months. It does not fulfill the school funding formula for public education, but it keeps 270 districts from receiving less aid than last year by appropriating an additional $7.4 million.

An additional $20 million was allocated for cancer research, including $10 million to Cooper Health System in Camden. Christie and political leader George Norcross III, who chairs the Cooper board, announced a new cancer treatment partnership with MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas earlier this month.

The budget also includes an additional $35 million to complete a higher-education reconfiguration involving Rutgers and Rowan universities.

The budget excludes $12 million for a special U.S. Senate election Christie set for Oct. 16 to replace the late Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg, leading Pou to ask how the governor can fund an election 20 days before his own re-election contest while failing to fund clinics that provide family planning services and cancer screenings to mostly poor women. Money for the special election likely will come from the secretary of state’s budget.

Final votes are scheduled in both chambers for Monday. The budget then goes to Christie to sign.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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