The state Legislature begins its review of Gov. Phil Murphy’s budget Tuesday, with the typical four-month marathon turned instead into a sprint concluding in just over three weeks.

The process was overhauled in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The state���s 2020 fiscal year was extended by three months, ending at the end of September with a stopgap three-month spending plan added on, rather than at the end of June as usual.

Now a nine-month 2021 budget must be adopted by Oct. 1, with Murphy’s revised budget plan announced Aug. 25 serving as the jumping-off point.

One of the first casualties of the shortened budget season is that the Legislature isn’t having public hearings on the plan. Progressive interest groups say that’s unfortunate, given the pandemic-driven needs and modest cuts to the budget now proposed. They held their own online hearing last week.

“The Legislature has opted not to have budget hearings, which is insane because for a thousand different reasons,” said Sue Altman, state director for New Jersey Working Families.

“The Legislature really should rethink how they’re proceeding with this most important budget, the most important budget I can ever remember,” said Dena Mottola Jaborska, associate director of New Jersey Citizen Action.

The Senate held two public hearings in March, just as the pandemic was starting, on a spending plan that since then has been significantly overhauled. It’s taking written testimony, but Environment New Jersey director Doug O’Malley said it’s not enough.

“We need radical transparency in this budget process, and we need a process that ensures the voices of the public are heard in this budget,” said O’Malley, who said there is no guarantee that cuts made this year will be reversed when conditions improve.

The Legislature is accepting written testimony through Friday, Sept. 11, and says it will be thorough reviewed by budget committee members and staff. Testimony can be emailed to LBFO@njleg.org.

Murphy plans to balance the budget in part through $4 billion in borrowing and just over $1 billion in increased taxes, primarily through a new tax on income between $1 million and $5 million and making permanent a 2.5% surcharge on corporate taxes.

Renee Koubiadis, executive director of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey, said the taxes are necessary to support spending on programs to help families heading for disaster.

“This is the time to address the new revenues that have been called for,” Koubiadis said. “We cannot risk massive budget cuts and a deeper and longer recession coming out of this public (health) and economic crisis.”

“I just want to urge that we resist knee-jerk austerity,” said Hetty Rosenstein, area director of CWA New Jersey.

Enter your number to get our free mobile app

Kevin Barfield, president of the Camden County NAACP, said the wealthy are doing well even during the pandemic and should pay higher taxes.

“We must invest in the communities, not millionaires and billionaires. No more trickle-down economics. If we are not careful, the social implication’s effects will be cause of a social unrest,” Barfield said.