Analysis: Christie budget speaks volumes about his agenda: pensions and taxes 2/18/2016

With few substantial changes and many proposals unlikely to cause controversy, the details of Governor Christie’s 2017 fiscal plan are expected to serve as supporting pieces to a broader pitch to taxpayers on two of the largest financial issues facing the state: pension reform and transportation funding. And Christie looks to be sending a message that his plans and willingness to reach across the aisle will keep New Jersey off a road to ruin. In his speech, Christie proposed $34.8 billion in spending and renewed his call to build on the bipartisan reforms of his first term and seek more concessions from the public employee unions whose pensions and health benefits costs – along with government debt — account for most of the growth in his budget. And even though the Transportation Trust Fund is scheduled to run out of money for new road and bridge projects at the end of June, Christie said in his speech that “there is time to reach a reasonable agreement.” The governor’s office said it will “issue details soon” on how and when Christie will begin selling his plan.

Christie to Democrats: Let’s not waste 630 days 2/16/2016

Gov. Chris Christie, in his first public appearance since quitting the race for president, told state lawmakers Tuesday (Feb 16) he is counting on $250 million in savings from changes to public workers’ and retirees’ health plans to balance his proposed budget. He didn’t set forth those changes in any detail. Likewise, Christie left for later any specifics on his plans for refinancing the state’s Transportation Trust Fund, the soon-to-be-depleted fund for shoring up the state’s crumbling roads and bridges. Christie outlined a $34.8 billion budget blueprint that envisions increasing overall state spending by more than 3 percent, or roughly $1 billion, with around 95 percent of that increase going toward pensions, health benefits and payments on debt. The governor touched on all those financial matters, as he has in past budget messages. But Tuesday’s speech marked the first opportunity for Christie to address lawmakers and the people of New Jersey on his failed quest for the White House — a subject that has animated his public policy and pronouncements for more than five years. The budget he outlines adds $555 million to the pension contribution, bringing it up to $1.86 billion in 2017. That amounts to 40 percent of the amount actuaries say should be contributed — far less than the 85 percent envisioned by 2010 and 2011 reform laws, which would have amounted to almost $4 billion, but seemingly enough to satisfy most Democratic lawmakers. The budget relies on plan design committees, which were created in 2011, to make changes to health benefits, such as higher co-payments for emergency room visits, changing prescription formularies and creating new delivery methods for primary care services. That could save the state $250 million, cut local government expenses by around $200 million and save employees $100 million in premiums, under the administration’s plans. Christie said the state’s ability to afford the increased pension payment and other priorities depends on reducing health care spending.

Christie’s 2016 budget address: Legislators, business leaders react 2/16/2016

Gov. Chris Christie issued messages of fiscal responsibility and bipartisanship as he presented a $34.8 billion spending plan during Tuesday’s annual budget address. Legislative, business and policy leaders are weighing in on what Christie had to say.

Michael Siekerka, CEO and president, New Jersey Business & Industry Association

“This is a strong statement against increasing taxes and for keeping New Jersey competitive. Christie went out of his way to emphasize his opposition to tax increases and several expensive proposals under consideration now, and he made the connection between high taxes and economic stagnation. It’s not just taxes. Mandates, like paid sick leave and a $15 minimum wage, and a constitutional amendment on pensions represent a trifecta for damaging the economic climate. This budget offers an alternative that will keep our economy moving forward.”

Tom Bracken, CEO and president, New Jersey Chamber of Commerce

“We are very pleased with both the tone and the content of Gov. Christie’s budget address today. He offered a realistic view of where New Jersey is, and a clear economic vision of where he wants it to go. He addressed all of the major issues we believe must be resolved if New Jersey is to maintain its economic momentum..”

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus)

“I am ready to work together with him, but when you start talking about certain things and you talk about that he inherited an $11 billion structural deficit, and now you have an $800 million surplus, that’s not accurate.”

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford)

“Judgment day is here. We need to fund the TTF and we need to find a solution and we’re willing to do that.”

Betsy Ryan, CEO and president, New Jersey Hospital Association

“For the health care community, there are things to like in this budget proposal, as well as areas of concern. We applaud the governor’s proposed increase of $60.7 million for graduate medical education to prepare the next generation of physicians, and his commitment to behavioral health, but we’re concerned about the $150 million reduction to charity care.”

Jon Whiten, deputy director, New Jersey Policy Perspective

“Once again, Gov. Christie has given a budget address that fails to lay out a plan to invest in New Jersey’s greatest economic asset — its transportation networks. The governor called the very real Transportation Trust Fund crisis a ‘politically driven mischaracterization,’ but New Jersey’s broken transportation-funding system is not driven by politics, it’s driven by simple mathematics.”

Assemblyman and Republican Budget Officer Declan O’Scanlon (R-Red Bank)

“The governor has demonstrated once again that he is a worthy steward of New Jersey taxpayer money. With yet another responsible, conservative budget, the governor has maintained critical funding of important services without increasing taxes on New Jersey families.”

Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Voorhees)

“The reality is that, for us, as I listened to the governor speak, I am encouraged by what I heard for the first time in a long time, a willingness to work together and an acknowledgement of the things that we have done in the past. That being said, there are factual inaccuracies in the governor’s speech that, I appreciate the governor standing up and saying facts matter, they do matter.”

Assemblyman Anthony Bucco (R-Randolph)

“The governor has presented a responsible budget that controls spending, funds education and reforms the state’s pension system. While the overall increase in state spending is 2.2 percent, core spending remains flat. In fact, it is important to note that this year’s spending growth is completely attributable to increased pension and health benefit payments.”

State Sen. Steven Oroho (R-Sparta)

“The governor has again laid out a fiscally responsible spending plan that holds discretionary spending in line and makes a record pension payment without any new taxes. The continued improvement in New Jersey’s private-sector job growth is a testament to the success that can occur under this pattern of prudent budgeting and smart economic policies.”

Debra P. DiLorenzo, CEO and president, Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey

“The Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey commends Gov. Christie for proposing a $34.8 billion balanced budget that for the seventh consecutive year does not increase taxes. Over his tenure as the state’s chief executive, Gov. Christie has demonstrated fiscal restraint and support of a healthy business climate, along with a clear vision as to how to continue to make New Jersey a place people want to live, work, and do business — today was no different.”

Christie’s Budget Address: Mixed Message to State’s Democratic Lawmakers 2/17/2016

More money for education and the public-employee pension system. A continuation of an increased tax credit for the state’s lowest wage earners. And a call for a “reasonable agreement” on renewing New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund. Though the tone of Gov. Chris Christie’s budget message yesterday may have been combative at times, the substance of his proposed $34.8 billion spending plan lines up well with some of the biggest priorities for Democratic legislative leaders. And it also left some room for bipartisan cooperation going forward. That said, the new budget also continues a series of fiscal policies Democrats have long complained about since Christie took office in early 2010. They include several dedicated-fund diversions and cuts to environmental funding and women’s healthcare. Christie didn’t hold back on the political rhetoric during the more than 30-minute speech before a joint session of the Legislature in the State House yesterday afternoon. He accused Democrats of sabotaging an earlier deal on transportation funding, and he chided them for recently announced efforts to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15. Afterward, Democrats took exception to Christie’s partisan tone, but they also welcomed him back to the state after months of intense campaigning. And they said they could still work with him in a bipartisan way. Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, praised Christie for offering another balanced budget without any tax hikes — and for repeating last month’s call to repeal New Jersey’s estate tax. In all, Christie’s new budget calls for a 3 percent increase in spending over the current, $33.8 billion fiscal year budget, relying on a modest 3.1 percent projection for revenue growth. That’s a shade under the growth forecast for the current budget, and much less than some of Christie’s prior spending plans. And though the proposed budget doesn’t factor in a gas-tax hike or new borrowing for a state Transportation Trust Fund that’s on course to run out of moeny by the end of June, Christie also did not take a firm position yesterday against a gas-tax hike, which is the preferred path among Democrats. The new budget also recommends a surplus fund of $800 million, leaving enough of a cushion for lawmakers and Christie to absorb some loss of revenue that would come with the kind of tax cut Christie would be seeking in a broader deal on transportation funding.

Christie punts on gas tax, says decision ‘cannot be made in a vacuum’ 2/16/2016

With a new survey claiming that many New Jerseyans would be willing to pay more at the pump to fix the state’s roads and bridges, Gov. Chris Christie didn’t explicitly say whether he’d back a gas tax increase in his annual budget address Tuesday (Feb. 16). Instead, Christie left the issue unresolved for now, saying a gas tax hike shouldn’t happen in a vacuum. He said  “it’s time to reach a reasonable agreement” on the failing Transportation Trust Fund — arguing there’s time to do so. Officials have said the fund is set to run out of money this summer, but Christie called that a “politically driven mischaracterization” of the fund’s expected expiration after five years. In the meantime, Christie said, the state is able to fund the capital projects that were proposed when the TTF was authorized five years ago. Christie said there’s “plenty of time to reach a reasonable decision, but it would have to be the right one. It will need to be the right one for the hardworking taxpayers of New Jersey.” The New Jersey Sierra Club and New Jersey Policy Perspective expressed their disappointment in the lack of Christie’s concern regarding the Fund. In s statement, the New Jersey Sierra Club stated, “The governor has said he won’t fix TTF and that’s unconscionable. Trains are derailing and wheels are falling off busses. Without funding our transit system will be in ruin.” The governor said he has already called for a repeal of the estate tax- not directly addressing speculation he might consider such repeal as a trade for increasing the gas tax. The governor also pushed back against proposed constitutional amendment to raise New Jersey’s minimum wage and to force pension payments.