Christie Says `Day of Reckoning' Has Arrived for States Facing Budget Gaps

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said U.S. states face a “day of reckoning” as they contend with looming budget deficits in the wake of the longest recession since the 1930s.

Christie, who cut $1.3 billion in aid to schools and municipalities this year to close a $10.7 billion deficit, said states’ pension and debt costs have grown to be “unsustainable.” Benefits, education and health care will be reduced in many states, he said in an interview aired last night on CBS Corp.’s “60 Minutes.”

“The day of reckoning has arrived,” said Christie, 48, a first-term Republican. Areas such as education and pensions “were third rails of politics. We are now left with no alternatives.”

The recession caused the biggest nationwide decline in state tax receipts on record, according to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington. States have filled more than $425 billion in funding gaps since fiscal 2009; the combined imbalance is likely to reach $140 billion in the next budget year, the center said.

Christie faces a deficit of as much as $10.5 billion in the next fiscal year, the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services estimated in July. Everything from worker pensions to prisons may face cuts as U.S. governors contend with a fourth year of budget deficits, incoming state executives said last month at a meeting of the National Governors Association in Colorado.

‘More Sacrifice’

Christie anticipates some pickup in New Jersey’s economy and plans to seek “more sacrifice” from residents in the coming year, he told reporters today in Trenton without elaborating. The governor said he hopes to position his state to recover sooner than peers, with lower tax rates and economic stability attracting new businesses.

“The Number 1 job of this administration is to get the state’s fiscal house in order,” he said. “Fiscal health must be placed first and foremost.”

States’ fiscal stress may trigger a “spate” of defaults among local municipalities, Meredith Whitney, the banking analyst who correctly predicted Citigroup Inc.’s dividend cut in 2008, said in the same segment on “60 Minutes.”

“You could see 50 sizeable defaults,” she said. “Fifty to 100 sizeable defaults” amounting to “hundreds of billions of dollars.”

Her comments echoed remarks she made in September in an interview on Bloomberg Television, in which she said the U.S. government will face pressure to bail out struggling states in the next 12 months.

To contact the reporter on this story: Terrence Dopp in Trenton, New Jersey, at tdopp@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net.

Bloomberg reserves the right to edit or remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.