By David Cruz
Surprising no one, Gov. Chris Christie put veto pen to paper and — line by line — stripped over $1.5 billion out of the $35 billion budget passed by the Democratically-controlled Legislature and then proceeded to kind of rub their noses in it.
“The Legislature continues to be deaf and blind as to taxes and so we have vetoed the income tax increase that they have passed for the fifth time in six years and we’ve vetoed the corporate tax surcharge they passed for the third time in six years,” the governor told a press conference after the budget veto/signing ceremony. “Now is not the time to drive jobs out of New Jersey; now’s the time to create jobs in New Jersey.”
The governor says corporations like Mercedes Benz and Merck, which have announced plans to leave the state, are being driven away by the state’s burdensome corporate taxes. As for that so-called millionaires tax, the governor said he’s recommending lawmakers cut taxes on the working poor, and to that end, threw this out there.
“An increase in the earned income tax credit from 20 percent to 30 percent, a 50 percent tax cut for the working families of New Jersey,” he said. “This is something that those families need now more than ever. They need more money in their own pocket, and less in the pockets of politicians for them to spend on their special interest friends here in Trenton.”
And in case you didn’t know who he was talking about, the governor took aim at his favorite public union target — the New Jersey Education Association also known as the teachers’ union.
“Let’s take the average teacher in New Jersey who works 30 years,” he said. “That average teacher puts $84,000 into the pension system over their 30-year career — $84,000. And they take out $1.1 million. The average teacher who gets family health coverage pays $111,000 over their 30-year career for that health coverage. And the cost of that health coverage is $1.5 million.”
That’s $195,000 in for pension and health benefits and $2.6 million out for the average New Jersey teacher, he said. Bunk, says the teachers’ union.
“The numbers he cited regarding our members’ contributions and the level of benefits they receive are inaccurate and intentionally misleading,” said a statement from union president Wendell Steinhauer. “We know that Gov. Christie has no interest in taking responsibility for fixing the pension problem he’s helped create.”
So, the union says they’re going to continue to work with their allies in the Legislature to get the pension fully-funded, although how they’d accomplish that beyond a constitutional amendment is unclear. Lawmakers were throwing up their hands at the end of the budget process, saying that they didn’t have a negotiating partner.
“I’m disheartened that the Legislature wouldn’t engage in a negotiation with me on the budget this year,” Christie said, “and the line-item vetoes that you see from me reflect their unwillingness to negotiate.”
But Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Gary Schaer disagreed. “Negotiation involves more than one party,” he said today, “and because the governor put out an idea which we do not accept does not mean that there were not negotiations. It simply means that we didn’t accept what he wanted and he didn’t accept what we wanted. But there was communication.”
So, on the day after the busiest day in the State House, the governor emerged smug and satisfied that the biggest agenda item left on his plate is now done, clearing his mind to make what will be the biggest decision of his political life, maybe next week.