New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), by his own account, has achieved the fiscal dream: balancing his state’s budget while offering unprecedented social services and a $183 million income tax cut.
Christie's last budget increased spending on K-12 education “to record levels,” he boasted in a speech at Brookings on Monday morning. “It supports our most vulnerable.” At the same time, Christie says he stood up special interests by pushing to reduce payments to public employees. “When I got introduced, I got booed like crazy,” he said, remembering how he unveiled the plan in 2010 before a group of firefighters. But he didn’t shirk from the controversy: “Legislatures don't lead—executives lead,” Christie said.
However, New Jersey’s fiscal picture isn’t nearly as rosy as Christie portrays it to be. Gordon MacInnes, president of New Jersey Policy Perspectives, a nonprofit organization that conducts research on public policy issues in the state, points out that Christie has tried to keep the 2012 budget afloat by borrowing or diverting money from funds dedicated to other sources—funds for transportation, affordable housing and foreclosure prevention. And New Jersey risks running into the red for years to come.
A major part of the problem is that revenue collection for 2012 is already falling significantly short of the Christie administration’s own projections. The state’s Office of Legislative Services (OLS), a non-partisan agency, estimated earlier this year that New Jersey will face a $1.3 billion shortfall by the end of 2013. NJ Spotlight details the gap between their projections for the upcoming year, and the budget shortfall that's expected:
The state’s fiscal woes have prompted serious concern from ratings agencies like Moody’s, which said recently that the state’s economy through the next year “will likely remain muted given recent tax revenue trends and our expectation that the state’s economic recovery will lag the U.S,” as the New Jersey Record reports. The revenue shortfalls have neither quelled Christie’s own appetite for a 10 percent tax cut, however, nor his opposition to the state Democrats’ call for a millionaire’s tax hike.