House and Senate negotiators could not agree yesterday on whether to reduce state property taxes and have put off attempts to reconcile their differences until Monday.
The impasse means the General Assembly will miss its Monday deadline for final passage of a $26 billion spending plan. The failure has no practical significance, although it will trigger an order by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. extending the Assembly session beyond its scheduled April 11 adjournment, if needed, to complete the budget work.
But lawmakers are expected to reach a compromise before then, and legislators say it is unlikely the session will go into overtime.
One of the largest disagreements between the two chambers is whether to reduce the state portion of property taxes, which were increased in 2003 under a budget-balancing compromise endorsed by Ehrlich.
House Democrats are pushing a plan to lower property tax bills $48 a year per $100,000 in assessed property value, in part to compensate politically for a tax increase they passed last year, which was rejected by the Senate.
Senate leaders say the state can't afford the cut.
House negotiators offered a compromise to cut the break in half. Senate leaders said they would consider it over the weekend but weren't inclined to budge.
Ehrlich Budget Secretary James C. "Chip" DiPaula Jr. said the governor would like to cut property tax rates, but if the legislature reduces them this year, he said, it will force cuts to Medicaid and other human services programs.
In a preliminary budget decision, negotiators agreed to restore money to the Child Care Resource and Referral Network. The House had proposed cutting $1 million from the network, and the Senate had proposed an $800,000 trim.