By David Cruz
If there is a highlight to the annual legislative budget hearing process, it is the visit by the state treasurer to the Senate Budget Committee. This afternoon, Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff was peppered with questions by Committee Chairman Sen. Paul Sarlo, who said he was skeptical about the governor’s budget numbers — from deficits to income projections on everything from e-cigarette taxes to casino revenue taxes, which Sarlo complained the administration was lumping in with overall casino revenues to hide how disappointing they were.
“How do we get the right information so we can make an accurate assessment so next year we’re not sitting here looking at a shortfall of $160 million potentially from this particular revenue source?” asked Sarlo.
“We had expected that the introduction of internet-based casino gambling would help lift overall gaming activity in Atlantic City and all related revenues. Clearly, the results so far have not met our expectations,” Sidamon-Eristoff said.
Earlier in the day, David Rosen, the budget officer for the Office of Legislative Services, testified that OLS and the governor were, once again, on different pages when it comes to revenue projections — how much money the state’s taking in — in several areas, including: income tax, where the governor’s projection is $12.9 billion, while OLS projects $12.8 billion, a difference of roughly $88 million; sales tax revenue projections differ by around $55 million; and casino revenues are off by roughly $26 million.
Overall, Rosen put the revenue shortfall through 2015 at $526 million.
“When you look that this is really a conversation about two years worth of budgets, FY 2014 and FY 2015, that they’re only off by $500 million, and I say only, because when you combine the two years you’re talking about over $66 billion in revenue and spending,” said Sen. Jennifer Beck.
But Chairman Sarlo disagreed with Beck’s assessment of the difference.
“For the last three years, we’ve missed it by $1.6 billion,” he said. Beck replied, “But that’s only 1 percent, so, I mean, that’s a pretty damn good guess. That’s a pretty close guess.”
Sarlo said, “In your eyes it is. In my eyes as the budget chairman it is not.
Sarlo pressed the treasurer on what the governor’s just completed internal investigation into the George Washington Bridge lane closures would cost taxpayers. The prevailing estimate is that it cost $1 million, but Sidamon-Eristoff said he had no idea and referred the question to the Attorney General’s Office, which had no comment on it today.
Ultimately, the person who certifies the budget numbers, and, indeed, holds the line-item veto pen, is Gov. Christie, which makes these budget committee hearings if not necessarily moot, then certainly mostly rhetorical.