By Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron
As technicians prepared the Assembly chamber for the governor’s televised budget address tomorrow, the Christie Administration was tight-lipped about details.
Some say the governor and his top staff are in a challenging position with this election-year budget. They say the revenue shortfall in the current budget year — Fiscal ’13 — approaches $1 billion.
NJ Spotlight pegs the structural deficit for Fiscal ’14, which begins in July, at $3 billion.
But a former state treasurer who prepared budgets for Democratic governors says it’s not a dire situation.
“A billion dollars in the current year is manageable and whatever deficit he has for ’14 is clearly less than what, not only less than he dealt with in ’11, but previous governors dealt with significant gaps of that size, as well. Governors deal with it because they have to deal with it,” said former state treasurer David Rousseau.
The governor is facing three built-in cost increases in the coming year — the state’s pension contribution is supposed to rise from $1.1 billion to $1.7 billion, some business tax cuts being phased in will cost an additional $194 million and Christie promised to increase Transportation Trust Fund spending by $114 million next year.
What he does going forward will probably entail some serious budget cutting or maneuvering.
“All the decisions are driven by how aggressive the governor is gonna be on his revenue numbers, which is a relationship about what he thinks is going on with the economy. And last year he was the most aggressive in the country. And in my opinion there’s no reason to think he won’t be that again to give themselves as much flexibility as they can,” Rousseau said.
The state’s largest business organization thinks the fiscal picture looks OK.
“The stock market was booming this year and I think that bonuses on Wall Street will be pretty high and we depend on that. So I think we’re in pretty good shape. The number of jobs that we’re creating are really more than we were creating even pre-recession,” New Jersey Business and Industry Association President Philip Kirschner said.
Meanwhile, a coalition of public interest groups today called on Christie to accept the federal government’s offer to pay for Medicaid expansion, arguing it will save the state $100 million to $200 million a year.
“We join this coalition in urging Gov. Christie to act tomorrow and to take the money that’s sitting on the table for us,” said Jeanne Ottersen of Health Professionals & Allied Employees.
Many questions surround this budget like the effects of Superstorm Sandy or a federal sequestration. Some answers should come from the podium tomorrow.