TRENTON -- There was a time in the not-too-distant past when getting a state budget through the New Jersey Legislature and signed by the governor had all the drama of Wagner's Ring cycle operas.

And seemed to take as long.

Certainty was banished from the stage. Small crowds of lawmakers and staff rushed from the floors of the Senate and Assembly to the governor's office and then to their own hideaways, to map proposals and counterproposals.

Deals were cut late into the night and often the budget wasn't adopted until the early-morning hours, after which lawmakers and the handful of journalists who managed to stay awake stumbled home.

Not anymore.

After weeks of quiet negotiation with the governor's office, Democrats in the Legislature on Thursday rolled out a $32.9 billion budget that to a great degree tracks with the proposal Gov. Christie, a Republican, unveiled in late February. It is a spare budget that grows by just over 2 percent and adheres to conservative principles, at least as far as state spending is concerned.

Both houses of the Legislature are expected to adopt the budget Monday, one week before the state constitution's June 30 deadline for passage.

Much of the increase is accounted for by a dramatic jump in Medicaid funding from the federal government to pay for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's program to expand health coverage to people who do not have health insurance.

Christie has been a vocal opponent of the health-care law but agreed to expand Medicaid enrollment in New Jersey, one of its key features, because the state's overall share of Medicaid spending will go down.

Why the bonhomie?

Part of it is Christie's robust popularity. A Quinnipiac University poll released June 10 gave Christie a near 70 percent favorability rating in his race against State Sen. Barbara Buono (D., Middlesex). Christie also has a close relationship with Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), who on some issues shares Christie's conservative leanings. But surely much of it this year is simply this: The Legislature is up for reelection, and evidently few lawmakers relish the thought of explaining to the voters why they picked a fight with a popular governor.

"I think most Democratic legislators recognize that with their own election coming up, there is little to be gained in having a knock-down, drag-out fight over money with one of the most popular governors in the country," said Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University.

Christie also has been clever in cultivating relationships with Democratic politicians, so much so that some have endorsed his reelection.

"This is very unique," said Joseph Marbach, a professor of political science at La Salle University, of the budget detente.

Christie's close working relationship with Sweeney, and the idea that they share conservative leanings on budget matters, has been central, Marbach said.

Sweeney and the governor "have seen eye to eye on a lot," Marbach said.

That's not to say that there was an absence of dissenting voices Thursday when the Assembly and Senate budget committees voted to release the budget. Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen) voted against the bill, saying that it shortchanged an important women's health program and took no steps to reduce homeowners' property-tax burden.

A fellow member of the committee, Sen. Nellie Pou (D., Passaic), wondered aloud how it was that the state could not fund needed social programs but had the money to pay for a special election to replace the late Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg.

Christie scheduled the special election for Oct. 16, at a cost of up to $24 million, less than three weeks before the regularly scheduled general election Nov. 5. Democrats have argued that holding three elections within a matter of months was a waste of taxpayer money.

But those voices so far have failed to gain much attention.

The big dispute earlier this year was over Christie's revenue projections, which Democratic lawmakers and the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services said were overstated by about $700 million.

By the time the budget was rolled out Thursday, the governor's projections remained and Democratic objections were muted. Democratic aides privately acknowledged that even if the gap between revenues reached $1 billion, about 2 percent of overall spending, it could be managed.

The only public rejoinder offered by Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo (D., Bergen) was that it was the administration's job to certify revenue. If the money falls short, it will have to find a way to make up the difference.

Contact Chris Mondics

at 215-854-5957 or cmondics@phillynews.com. ___

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Robert Bentley (R-Ala.)

    Took office: Jan. 2011 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Sean Parnell (R-Alaska)

    Took office: July 2009 Term ends: Dec. 2014

  • Jan Brewer (R-Ariz.)

    Took office: Jan. 2009 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Mike Beebe (D-Ark.)

    Took office: Jan. 2007 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Jerry Brown (D-Calif.)

    Took office: Jan. 2011 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.)

    Took office: Jan. 2011 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Dannel P. Malloy (D-Conn.)

    Took office: Jan. 2011 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Jack Markell (D-Del.)

    Took office: Jan. 2009 Term ends: Jan. 2017

  • Rick Scott (R-Fla.)

    Took office: Jan. 2011 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Nathan Deal (R-Ga.)

    Took office: Jan. 2011 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii)

    Took office: Dec. 2010 Term ends: Dec. 2014

  • Butch Otter (R-Idaho)

    Took office: Jan. 2007 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Pat Quinn (D-Ill.)

    Took office: Jan. 2009 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Mike Pence (R-Ind.)

    Took office: Jan. 2013 Term ends: Jan. 2017

  • Terry Branstad (R-Iowa)

    Took office: Jan. 2011 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Sam Brownback (R-Kan.)

    Took office: Jan. 2011 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Steve Beshear (D-Ky.)

    Took office: Dec. 2007 Term ends: Dec. 2015

  • Bobby Jindal (R-La.)

    Took office: Jan. 2008 Term ends: Jan. 2016

  • Paul LePage (R-Maine)

    Took office: Jan. 2011 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Martin O'Malley (D-Md.)

    Took office: Jan. 2011 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Deval Patrick (D-Mass.)

    Took office: Jan. 2007 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Rick Snyder (R-Mich.)

    Took office: Jan. 2011 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Mark Dayton (D-Minn.)

    Took office: Jan. 2011 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Phil Bryant (R-Miss.)

    Took office: Jan. 2012 Term ends: Jan. 2016

  • Jay Nixon (D-Mo.)

    Took office: Jan. 2009 Term ends: Jan. 2017

  • Steve Bullock (D-Mont.)

    Took office: Jan. 2013 Term ends: Jan. 2017

  • Dave Heineman (R-Neb.)

    Took office: Jan. 2005 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Brian Sandoval (R-Nev.)

    Took office: Jan. 2011 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.)

    Took office: Jan. 2013 Term ends: JAn. 2015

  • Chris Christie (R-N.J.)

    Took office: Jan. 2010 Term ends: Jan. 2018

  • Susana Martinez (R-N.M.)

    Took office: Jan. 2011 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.)

    Took office: Jan. 2011 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Pat McCrory (R-N.C.)

    Took office: Jan. 2013 Term ends: Jan. 2017

  • Jack Dalrymple (R-N.D.)

    Took office: Dec. 2010 Term ends: Dec. 2016

  • John Kasich (R-Ohio)

    Took office: Jan. 2011 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Mary Fallin (R-Okla.)

    Took office: Jan. 2011 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • John Kitzhaber (D-Ore.)

    Took office: Jan. 2011 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Tom Corbett (R-Pa.)

    Took office: Jan. 2011 Term ends: JAn. 2015

  • Lincoln Chafee (D-R.I.)

    Took office: Jan. 2011 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Nikki Haley (R-S.C.)

    Took office: Jan. 2011 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Dennis Daugaard (R-S.D.)

    Took office: Jan. 2011 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Bill Haslam (R-Tenn.)

    Took office: Jan. 2011 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Rick Perry (R-Texas)

    Took office: Dec. 2000 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Gary Herbert (R-Utah)

    Took office: Aug. 2009 Term ends: Jan. 2017

  • Peter Shumlin (D-Vt.)

    Took office: Jan. 2011 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Terry McAuliffe (D-Va.)

    Took office: Jan. 2014 Term ends: Jan. 2018

  • Jay Inslee (D-Wash.)

    Took office: Jan. 2013 Term ends: JAn. 2017

  • Earl Ray Tomblin (D-W.Va.)

    Took office: Nov. 2010 Term ends: Jan. 2017

  • Scott Walker (R-Wis.)

    Took office: Jan. 2011 Term ends: Jan. 2015

  • Matt Mead (R-Wyo.)

    Took office: Jan. 2011 Term ends: Jan. 2015