UPDATE 1-New Jersey lawmakers OK budget close to governor's proposal

Mon Jun 24, 2013 8:06pm EDT

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NEW YORK, June 24 (Reuters) - New Jersey's Democratic-led state legislature approved on Monday a $33 billion budget deal that avoids controversial new initiatives and tax cuts as Republican Governor Chris Christie and the entire legislature face re-election.

The bare-bones budget for the 2014 fiscal year that begins July 1 closely mirrors the original budget blueprint proposed by Christie. Only $55.6 million separated the two plans.

Democrats added $97.2 million to the governor's original $32.9 billion proposal, though the modest increase was offset by savings elsewhere.

Democrats noted they restored education dollars to ensure that all school districts had no less money on hand than last year and money for nursing homes and cancer research.

"This budget does not accomplish all that we had hoped, but by negotiating with the administration we were able to provide much needed funding in areas critical to New Jersey's seniors and our schools," Senate President Steve Sweeney said in a statement.

The budget also included a $1.68 billion payment to the state's public pension system - a near $650 million increase over this year's payment.

Last year, Christie predicted a New Jersey comeback from the recession. But the state's economy has lagged and was dealt a major blow when Superstorm Sandy swept ashore in October.

Christie, who is more popular with state voters than any other New Jersey governor in nearly 20 years, said his budget was balanced and included no new taxes.

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