Few changes expected in Christie’s $35.5B N.J. spending plan

 The New Jersey  Assembly Budget committee holds the first of several hearings on Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed state budget Wednesday. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

The New Jersey Assembly Budget committee holds the first of several hearings on Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed state budget Wednesday. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

New Jersey lawmakers have started a series of hearings on Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed budget.

Assembly Budget Committee chairman Gary Schaer said he anticipates lawmakers will tweak Christie’s $3.5 billion spending plan.

“Our involvement is critical in terms of honing the budget,” said Schaer, D-Passaic. “Some funds could be found here to cut. Some funds could be found here to expand.”

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee, said even if good ideas come up at the hearings, they’ll be hard to fund because of the state’s pension and health benefit obligations.

“It’s taxpayer dollars that we’re talking about,” said O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth. “So, you want to advocate more money for something, you’re advocating for taking more money out of taxpayers’ pockets. Good luck with that.”

Lawmakers are also wary of possible cuts in federal funding to the state in light of Obamacare changes, Schaer said.

“Not necessarily on the budget that we’re discussing this year but certainly that’s the elephant in the room on the future,” he said Wednesday. “We have over half a million people who have taken advantage of initiatives that are funded in part or in while by Washington.”

The state Constitution requires a new budget by the end of June.

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