By David Cruz
They may be talking tough, and it may be getting late, but lawmakers say they can get a budget deal done before the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
Gov. Chris Christie initially said he couldn’t make it to the annual AARP New Jersey Day, but agreed to come by last minute, so expectations were high that he might say something new on the current budget impasse. Alas, the governor stuck to his standard “New Jersey Comeback” Town Hall talking points, stopping only briefly to refer to the budget and tax relief.
“We want cut your taxes this year,” he told close to 400 attendees at the annual event. “We want you to get a 10 percent credit on your income tax towards your property taxes. Now that’s what the Senate President’s plan is. I’ve wanted to cut income taxes across the board by 10 percent. Well, there’s an area for us to compromise in there, I suspect. And you know, the Senate President and I have compromised on a lot of things.”
The governor says he and Senate President Steve Sweeney have at least a verbal agreement. But the Assembly wants to up the ante by going with a 20 percent property tax cut that would be funded by a so-called millionaires tax. Meanwhile, the Office of Legislative Services (OLS) keeps reporting revenue shortfalls that make any of these seem near impossible. Still, lawmakers insisted everything is going along according to plan.
“Both sides have to meet each other, and then, at the end of the day, we have to agree that we send a message out there that taxes must be lowered,” said Jon Bramnick, the Assembly Republican Leader. “How we’re going to do that, when we’re gonna do that. It’s going to happen before the end of June and it’s going to happen after a number of meetings, but it’s going to happen.”
Sen. Loretta Weinberg says the millionaires tax is something worth considering but not something that will be a factor in this budget negotiation.
“I think it’s another week maybe before we get the mid-June revenue estimates, so we have a little time to look and make sure that what we’re looking at in the revenue picture, both for the end of this budget and the beginning of the new budget, are as accurate as can be. So I don’t think there is anything imminent, but it will be done by June 30.”
Right now the OLS is estimating a shortfall of around $1 billion, which makes tax relief sound like a luxury. The governor’s willing to go borrow money to make a tax cut happen and several lawmakers say they’re ready to make as yet unspecified compromises to see the same thing. But at least one lawmaker is asking what’s the rush?
“Well, quite frankly, I don’t see why the clock is ticking,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle. “I think we can do a wait and see approach. I don’t think that July 1 is any drop-dead deadline. I think we can accomplish this by the end of the year because — to tell you the truth — the numbers are so in flux right now, and I’d like to get a handle on the real numbers. If there’s a shortfall between anywhere from $800 million to $1.3 billion, we’ve got some issues.”
Just about three weeks to go in the fiscal year and no signs of a compromise around the Statehouse, even amongst Democrats in the Legislature, but lawmakers say this is not a dangerous game of “chicken,” it’s simply the legislative process in Trenton.