NJ’s Budget Battle Turns Into War Of Words [VIDEO/AUDIO]
Yesterday, the top budget analyst for the non-partisan research arm of the legislature told the Assembly Budget Committee that New Jersey has raked in only half of the $1 billion in revenue growth Governor Chris Christie is anticipating for this fiscal year.
Dr. David Rosen with the Office of Legislative Services (OLS) says revenue is rising too slowly to hit the projected targets.
Meanwhile, Christie was across the street from the State House where Rosen was testifying and he wasted no time in blasting the budget expert calling him, "The Dr. Kevorkian of the numbers."
Rosen estimates that over the next 14 months state revenues will lag $1.3 billion behind Christie's projections. State Treasurer Andrew Eristoff expects the budget gap to be about $676 million.
The news isn't entirely bad according to Rosen.
He says, "New Jersey is not witnessing a fiscal meltdown. This is not 2002. This is not 2009."
Christie says OLS is partisan and always has been. He claims it caters to the majority party in Trenton which now happens to be the Democrats. It would be a vast understatement to say the Governor is not buying Rosen's projections.
Christie says, "Nobody in New Jersey believes David Rosen anymore, nobody, and nobody should…..He's so wrong for so long that his credibility is now gone….Why would anybody with a functioning brain believe this guy? How often to you have to be wrong to finally be dismissed?"
Although he didn't comment on Christie's statements, Rosen freely admitted during his testimony that projecting revenues is not an exact science and nobody can guarantee his or her numbers are going to be 100% correct.
Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald came to Rosen's defense saying, "The Governor's comments toward Dr. Rosen are especially troubling. This is yet another example of the Governor's reprehensible use of name-calling whenever things don't break his way. While some people run from the truth, numbers don't lie, and once again the governor is ignoring basic facts - such as how the Office of Legislative Services has been more accurate than the executive branch in forecasting revenues."
While Greenwald accuses Christie of 'reprehensible name-calling,' the headline of the Majority Leader's press release read, 'Greenwald on Christie Unhinged.'
Greenwald says, "It doesn't matter how much the Governor stomps his feet. If he stomps his feet I feel the quake, but I don't shake and the reality is the people of New Jersey have had enough and they want real relief."
"We stand firmly behind Dr. Rosen," says State Senate President Steve Sweeney. "He is a true professional who has never shown a partisan leaning in his many years of service to Legislatures and legislators both Democratic and Republican."
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver says, "The Governor has apparently lost control of himself. If your child acted this way, you would scold him. If your neighbor acted this way, you would have nothing to do with him. If a business leader or a school principal acted this way, they would be dismissed. It is not acceptable for the Governor of the State of New Jersey to act this way. The Governor may not like the budget projections, but that's not Dr. Rosen's fault. Dr. Rosen is a professional who works for both parties and has been over time a more accurate revenue forecaster than the executive branch."
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A press release from the Governor office says, "The shortfall for the two years is completely manageable with a $314 million shortfall for fiscal year 2012 and a $362 million shortfall for fiscal year 2013. Although these are revised estimates, the Treasurer has outlined common sense budgeting solutions because the administration has consistently and aggressively managed government all year long. Solutions include spending below budget in fiscal year 2012 and lower spending forecasts for 2013 which exist because actual spending for the year has been managed throughout the course of the year to levels below what was initially projected."
Closing The Gap
To close this year's gap as the treasurer sees it, there are several moves Eristoff says the Administration is prepared to make. They include: shifting $200 million in clean energy receipts from 2013 to 2012, using $100 million from lapses in spending and supplemental needs, $27 million from the Tobacco Settlement Fund, a combined $24 million in available fund balances from the Motor Vehicle Commission and Workforce Development Fund, reducing planned spending for the Health Benefits Fund and School Employee Health Benefits Fund by $98 million and accelerate the recognition of $200 million from the Clean Eanergy fund from this fiscal year to next fiscal year.
For the Fiscal year 2013 budget, $260 million from the pay-as-you-go transportation capital plan would be diverted to the general fund and then the state would borrow to make the transportation payment.
Assemblyman Gary Schaer says the Christie Administration is essentially borrowing to fund the Governor's 10% across-the-board income tax cut plan.
He says, "I'm troubled that we're borrowing money from the transportation fund to help fund the Governor's proposed income tax scheme, which in actuality provides almost no relief at all to the middle-class and poor. How do we explain to the public that we're borrowing money to provide income tax relief that mostly benefits the rich? It's the equivalent of going to your bank and borrowing money to deposit into your checking account that you must later repay with interest. It doesn't make financial sense and is unfair to the taxpayers."
Eristoff says the plan is a one-year initiative and, "We do not make this recommendation casually."
The Treasurer also says the Administration plans to reduce funding for pay raises from $40 million to $20 million, realize $108 million in debt service savings, $20 million from lower employee benefit costs and Eristoff says he's identified $79 million in Clean Energy Fund balances that can be used for budget relief.
Courtesy Governor's Office