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Christie Said to Plan Line-Item Veto to Trim Democrat Budget

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will cut individual spending items from the $30.6 billion budget sent to him by the Democratic-led Legislature yesterday, according to three people with knowledge of the decision.

Christie, a first-term Republican, may announce the decision within an hour, said the people, who are government officials and declined to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about it. They declined to say what Christie would cut. Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie, declined to comment.

Using the so-called line-item veto would allow Christie, 48, to sign the budget into law before the midnight deadline and avoid a government shutdown, said Patrick Murray, who teaches politics at Monmouth University in West Long Branch. Lawmakers could try to override his changes later.

“Politically, this was the only move for Christie,” Murray said. “Democrats knew Christie would have taken the blame for a shutdown, not them.”

The budget approved by lawmakers yesterday along party lines is $1 billion more than Christie wanted. New Jersey’s constitution requires a plan to be in place by the July 1 start of the fiscal year.

Christie has the option of vetoing the budget altogether, sending it back to lawmakers with proposed changes, or cutting individual items while signing it. The first two options would have given lawmakers hours to cobble together a new plan or override the governor, and put the state on a path toward a government shutdown.

2006 Closure

The last time it happened in New Jersey was in 2006, when then-Governor Jon Corzine, a Democrat, ordered non-essential operations including casinos, the lottery and parks closed for a week, after an impasse with lawmakers from his own party over a sales-tax increase. Christie last year signed an executive order that would keep Atlantic City’s 11 gambling halls open amid a shutdown.

Republican lawmakers and Christie said the Democrats’ spending plan for the next fiscal year was out of balance with revenue, a violation of the state constitution. The proposal includes “hundreds of millions of dollars in spending that is unsupported by constitutionally certified revenue,” Drewniak said in an e-mail late yesterday.

Line Items

Christie said on June 28 that aides were preparing a list of items he planned to strike from the spending plan. While Democrats control the Senate, 24-16, and the Assembly, 47-33, those numbers are short of the two-thirds majority that would have been needed to override a veto on a party-line vote. All 120 legislative seats come up for election this year.

Both chambers passed a separate bill yesterday that would levy an income-tax surcharge on earnings over $1 million, to raise additional money for schools. Christie pledged to veto it.

Christie said June 24 that the state would have $30.3 billion in revenue next fiscal year, or $300 million less than the amount in the Democrats’ budget. Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff said in May that revenue will top Christie’s initial budget projection by about $511 million, while Democrats figured on $800 million extra in their plan.

The Democrats’ measure would increase funding for schools by $1.1 billion over the proposal Christie outlined in February. New Jersey’s Supreme Court in May ordered the state to boost aid to the poorest districts by at least $500 million, ruling that the governor’s cuts underfunded the systems.

Democrats also sought to direct $50 million in additional funding to police in high-crime cities, restore $1 million for women’s health care and expand the state’s earned-income tax credit for the working poor.

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