POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Chief Budget Officer is Latest Target of Christie’s Tongue Lashing

By David Cruz
NJ Today

The fate of a proposed tax cut — the cornerstone of Gov. Chris Christie’s “Jersey Comeback” — rests in large part on the revenue projection numbers that come from David Rosen, the Legislative Budget and Finance Officer at the Office of Legislative Services (OLS). A report from OLS this week says the state’s revenue fell $254 million below projections for fiscal year 2012, which ended June 30. That number, which has already been adjusted by OLS twice, doesn’t bode well for the governor, who has predicted a revenue increase of over 7 percent to justify a tax cut. The governor, who’s never minced words when it comes to his distaste for the OLS, waved off yesterday’s report with the usual tone he reserves for the office.

“I can’t explain their numbers,” he said at a press conference in Haddonfield yesterday. “How am I supposed to explain numbers that are so drastically wrong a month apart? Why aren’t you at David Rosen’s office asking the good doctor how it is that he’s $280 million wrong in a month? And what’s his number gonna be next month when he writes another politically motivated memo?”

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Rosen told us via e-mail that it would be inappropriate for him to comment for our story, and no one else from OLS speaks to the press. Assembly budget committee Chairman Vincent Prieto says, by their very nature, revenue projections are an inexact science and can be affected by a number of factors, including corporate earnings, the unemployment rate and even the weather.

“What’s going to happen is, the revenues of this year have to match what we’re going to be spending this year, and we won’t know that until basically the beginning of next year when we see what the collection rate is on all the different taxes,” he explained. “We’ll see how we do with that, meeting the expectation of 7 percent, that was the highest in the nation.”

Democrats say Christie may not like the numbers coming out of OLS but that they represent a more realistic look at the state’s bank account. And Assembly budget committee member Albert Couthino says if the projections pan out, the Christie tax cut could be in danger.

“I don’t believe that the numbers are there for a tax cut,” he said. “I mean, realistically, the way the budget was approved, if we hit the revenue number fully, you would have the money there to do a tax cut. I mean, realistically, there are projections that we’re going to be approximately $700 million off.”

Prieto added: “If we are below that [projection], then where do we cut from? We have to be mindful; that’s why we had to wait and see. Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that. Hopefully, the economy does bounce back and our unemployment goes down and everything just starts trickling back.”

The revenue projections in the state’s $32 billion spending plan are certified by the governor, so he is the master of budgetary reality, which makes OLS the reality check. Whatever the projections today, the number could be moot, because the books won’t officially be closed on fiscal 2012 until the end of the calendar year.

A Republican staffer told NJ Today that this is a squabble between Chris Christie and David Rosen. “We have no interest in getting in the middle of that,” he said. “The numbers are gonna be what they’re gonna be. That may sound a little cavalier but where the numbers end up could mean the difference between a tax cut and a budget cut. And budget cuts are a whole different issue. ”