Assembly Budget Committee Questions State Treasurer About Shortfall

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

Democrats on the Assembly Budget Committee pressed State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff to disclose how he plans to close a fairly large budget shortfall.

“We’re looking under every rock, pebble, you have it,” said Eristoff.

The state has to find more than $800 million in savings over the next seven weeks.

Eristoff said 80 percent of this year’s money is out the door already, but that he’d announce a solution at his final appearance before the budget committees in two weeks.

Assembly Budget Chairman Gary Schaer said he expected more than generalities today.

Eristoff, however, held his ground.

“I think it would be premature to get into specifics prior to the governor’s determination as to what path of he wants to choose,” Eristoff said.

This is the fourth year in a row the Christie administration has overestimated state revenue, said Schaer, and he wished someone would take responsibility.

“It is with utmost difficulty that I look at leadership coming out of the governor’s office for a situation that was caused by the governor’s office,” Schaer said.

Eristoff said he would take responsibility and find $800 million of cuts in the $5.6 billion not yet out the door.

He said the cuts could come from school aid, hospital aid, college aid or other monies not yet spent.

Democrats expressed impatience.

“If you only have $5.6 billion left to go, and you gotta find $807 million, why does it take three and a half weeks when you have the financial guys that you have, your own experience, through the chair, respectfully,” Assemblyman Joe Cryan said.

“What’s at the heart of the frustration is that with just a few weeks to go before this fiscal year ends, an $800 million shortfall, we had expected and hoped to hear more concrete ideas coming from the treasurer and the governor’s office,” said Schaer.

Eristoff explained that revenues are down in many states due to federal tax law changes in 2012.

The legislature’s own experts say the shortfall in the governor’s budget plan for next year is at least $1 billion.

“We’re looking at this as a two-year challenge,” Eristoff said.

“We respect that. We respect what you’re trying to do. You didn’t want this mess to happen any more than we did. All of us are in extraordinarily uncomfortable positions. We have very real choices that need to be made,” said Schaer. “These losses are going to hit and affect someone, somehow, right?”

What Schaer calls a mess, and Cryan calls a crisis, Eristoff calls a challenge. He reminded the committee he and Christie closed a larger, $2.5 billion shortfall in Christie’s first months in office.