- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Lawmakers made little progress Tuesday toward resolving disagreements with Gov. Chris Christie over his $33.8 billion budget proposal, although dozens of residents, lobbyists and public officials got a chance to weigh in during a marathon committee hearing.

The hearing, the third and final one in which members of the public will offer testimony to Assembly members, is an opening act in the months-long budget process already marked by a clash between the Democratic-controlled Legislature and Christie over key budget items. Lawmakers must enact a new budget by June 30, the day before the start of the new fiscal year.

The Republican governor and lawmakers disagree over how to pay for public sector pensions, whether and how to restructure the state’s transportation trust fund and if the state should raise taxes to in the process.

In particular, Christie has proposed paying $1.3 billion into the state’s public employee pension system in 2016, but that’s below what he and lawmakers agreed to in a 2011 law. Meanwhile, a Superior Court judge ruled that the governor and lawmakers must find a way to pay $1.57 billion into the fund for fiscal year 2015, and Christie is appealing the ruling.

Wendell Steinhauer, president of the New Jersey Education Association, said Tuesday the union will continue to pursue the state pension payment.

“NJEA is fully committed to insuring the state meets its obligation to fully fund the public employees’ pension system,” Steinhauer said. “We believe the governor should live up to the law he promoted and signed.”

The Assembly Budget Committee met most of the day, hearing from dozens of witnesses on issues, including aid to municipalities and schools and support for people with developmental disabilities. The Senate is holding similar hearings, with the next one scheduled for Wednesday at Rowan College at Gloucester County.

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