But in the end, when the state legislature passed the 2006 Fiscal Year Budget $27.9 billion, Democrats in the Senate and Acting Gov. Richard Codey came out on top.
But there were compromises made, giving Assembly Democrats some bragging rights.
"We set a high goal and have achieved it," said Codey in celebrating the budget. "With this budget the era of spending like there's no tomorrow ends right now. Gimmicks and speculative budgeting are banished to the past."
State Senator and Mayor Joseph Doria called it "a budget that the state can be proud of."
"If fully funded rebates for senior and ensures that the most vulnerable in the society are not forgotten," Doria said.
But key to the feud was the rebate program which Codey sought to trim when he introduced the budget in March. Assembly Democrats (who face reelection in November) balked, and came up with budget proposals of their own, geared at saving the rebate program, especially for senior citizens.
A compromise that allowed the budget to move forward and reports of better than expected revenues, allowed the rebates to get restored to full level for senior citizens and disabled residences of the state at $1,200 for each homeowner, while slashing in half the rebate to an average of about $300 for other homeowners.
Assemblyman Louis Manzo (D-31st Dist.) believes the restoration was motivated by legislation he sponsored that would have shifted school costs from property tax to income tax.
Assemblyman Anthony Chiappone said his support for the budget was contingent on saving the rebates for seniors and the disabled.
"My primary condition to approve the budget was that the Homestead Rebate program be maintained," he said. "Homeowners and seniors have come to rely on these rebates."
Codey and the state Senate were pushing to cut back on several areas in order to provide The Assembly and Senate Democrats also reached agreement in several other areas, including the eliminating a plan to raise $175 million by increasing items that would be subject to the state's sales tax. This was a critical piece in an election year. In 1990, Republicans successful swept Democrats out of control in the Assembly using opposition to a similar sales tax increase.
The new budget marginally reduces total spending from $28 billion last year and allocates significant resources to key areas such $20 million to reopen FamilyCare centers through the state, $40 million in additional funding for mental health care, $120 million in aid to hospitals, a $1 million increase for cancer programs, $20.6 million in new funding to maintain drug coverage for NJ seniors impacted by the new federal Medicare Drug Program.
"It is one of the first budgets in recent years that is actually less than last year's budget," Doria said. "We are funding the programs that matter to the people of New Jersey and the ultimate beneficiaries will be the taxpayers."
In a book keeping maneuver, the Democrats increased property tax relief to the state by $400 million, but the item will be charged to the 2005 budget.
Chiappone said the budget approved no new sales or user taxes, and shielded cable TV and Satellite TV subscribers from tax increases.
The budget according to Codey calls for $275 million in spending cuts and other efficiency measures, with a workforce reduction of at least 500 employees through attrition - meaning jobs will not be filled when people retire.
Kenny, who was involved in the final negotiations between the Senate and Assembly along with Assembly Speaker and West New York Mayor Albio Sires, and Camden County Assemblyman Joe Roberts and others, called the budget negotiations "personal and difficult."
"My role was to provide leadership for the caucus and to be a primary negotiator with the Governor in private meetings," he said.
"This budget shows what is possible when we commit to being realistic and living within our means," Codey said in celebrating the passage of the budget.