BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Assembly Budget Committee Grills State Treasurer on Shortfalls

By David Cruz
Correspondent

At the Assembly Budget Committee meeting today, the morning session began with the Office of Legislative Services predicting $2.6 billion in revenue shortfalls over the 2014 and 2015 budgets.

“We haven’t had an economic downturn but our revenue growth is weaker than would have expected during an economic recovery, albeit a tepid one,” said Legislative Budget and Finance Officer David Rosen.

And it went downhill from there. One day after Gov. Chris Christie announced that he was slashing payments to public worker pensions, the state’s largest public workers’ union threatened to sue. The governor said the state has a spending problem, but the union said otherwise.

“He has to raise revenue and we have a couple of ways that he has ignored — the millionaire’s tax. He’s vetoed three times when it’s landed on his desk. He’s giving corporate subsidies to jobs that haven’t materialized,” said New Jersey Education Association President Wendell Steinhauer.

Those aren’t new ideas and the governor made it clear what he thought of them yesterday, saying essentially, “Read my lips.”

“Income taxes being raised in any way, shape or form will not happen while I am governor. Under no circumstances,” Christie said.

Meanwhile, lawmakers went gunning for the state treasurer, who was left to defend the administration’s budget decisions, including yesterday’s announcement on pensions.

“It just simply strikes me that with what we’re doing with part of the pension is we’re saying we’re not responsible. Because this happened before, we’re not taking responsibility for it now,'” said Budget Committee Chairman Assemblyman Gary Schaer.

“By any measure that denying the fact that we have a long-term obligation,” said State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff. “I really must insist that you not attempt to characterize my comments in such a fashion. I am not saying that New Jersey, or this administration, is in any way walking away from its long-term obligations.”

The governor insists the pension fund is in dire straits, with an estimated unfunded liability of $54 billion through 2018. In a state with 8.9 million residents, that means every one of us will need to ante up more than $6,000 in order to pay that off. But Republicans shot back at their Democratic colleagues, calling them hypocrites for their outrage.

“We knew we had a major problem with our pension system in 2005 and it only got worse and became harder to fix. Why? Because, again, because some of the very same people now complaining that we didn’t do enough didn’t do anything then,” said Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon.

With just five weeks to go in the 2014 fiscal year, there’s not much critics can do to stop the governor’s moves. But 2015 is a new fiscal year, full of opportunities for compromise and reform, provided someone is ready to take advantage of them.