The budget, which appropriates $24 billion in state funds and about $10 billion in federal funds, was patched together after a marathon session extending from the morning of June 30 into the afternoon of July 1.
The Senate, evenly divided among Democrats and Republicans, voted 21 to 18 to approve the budget. An hour later, the Democratic-controlled Assembly agreed in a 41 to 37 party-line vote.
"I started about 9 a.m. on Monday June 30," said state Sen. Bernard Kenny (D-33rd Dist.), "and we finished up about 1 p.m. on Tuesday. That was about 30 hours of hard talk. I managed to get a 30-minute nap on Tuesday. But that was all. The Assembly finished a few hours after we did."
The process, however, actually began in mid-June, Kenny said. "We worked from June 15 to June 30 getting ready," he said. "I stayed over a number of nights, and for the last week or so, was there every night."
Kenny is on the budget and leadership committees, and said these were integral in getting the budget passed.
"We met every day, sometimes several times a day," he said.
Hudson County played a significant role in the Democratic drive to get the budget passed, since West New York Mayor Albio Sires (D-33 rd Dist.) is the speaker of the Assembly, and Kenny, the speaker of the Senate.
Each worked toward the same purposes in their respective houses, meeting with the other legislators from around the state, and leaders in the Democratic Party. Kenny said he often met with Gov. Jim McGreevey, the state treasurer, chief of staff, and governor's counsel to discuss political and governmental strategies.
Republican Assemblyman Frafael J Fraguela, who is seeking to unseat Kenny in November in a race for the Senate, said he was very unhappy with the budget's cutting of funds from Abbott or needy school districts.
The new budget cuts about $500,000 from the Smart Growth Planning Grants program, geared particularly toward the planning and design of schools in Abbott Districts.
The budget also cuts $1.3 million from a program supporting community centers, many of which are used by Latino populations around the state.
"This will hurt the people that are the most needy in the state," Fraguela said.
Assemblyman Anthony Impreveduto (D-32nd Dist.), however, said the budget was the best that could be expected after a decade of Republican neglect.
"Of course, I'm not satisfied with this budget," Impreveduto said. "It is a horrible budget. But it is the best we could do. We know there is a lot of pain in it. In a poor economy everybody is going to suffer. But we had to do what we could this year with the hope of working out a better budget next year."
Impreveduto said legislators had to make some difficult choices, such as making cuts in the arts. About half the arts funding was cut this year.
"But if it comes down to a choice between providing someone with medical care or funding the arts, which would you choose?" Impreveduto asked. "The arts can wait. Child's healthcare can't."
A successful team effort
Kenny said the budget process was a very successful team effort.
"We did not do anything in the Senate without our counterparts in the Assembly knowing about it, or people in the governor's office," he said.
Kenny said some of the successes included pharmacy relief for senior citizens, family care, and health insurance for poor families.
"Maintaining the DYFS budget was very important," he said.
Although the state did cut the planning aspect for schools, aid to municipalities and schools were maintained.
Kenny said the Republicans managed to remove a telephone tax that would have taxed landlines and cellular phones to establish a way to trace 911 emergency calls.
"If you recall the four boys in a boat off City Island last year, they called 911 and no one could locate them," Kenny said. "This tax would have helped us develop technology to make tracing possible."
Yet Kenny said in the fight to find new taxes to help pay for the state's needs, the Republicans managed to remove about $200 million of the proposed $800 million.