New Jersey lawmakers approved Republican Governor Chris Christie’s $33 billion budget, with Democrats, who had criticized the plan as an election-year sop, providing the votes for passage.
Democrats, who control both chambers, had initially panned Christie’s spending plan for fiscal 2014 as one that overlooks the working poor and unemployed. They passed his budget with few changes. Christie, 50, and all 120 members face re-election in November.
The budget is 2.8 percent higher than the 2013 plan and the biggest since 2008, according to state documents. Senate Budget Chairman Paul Sarlo, a Democrat from Wood-Ridge, said his party secured $97.2 million in additional spending that was offset by a reduction in anticipated health-care costs.
“Nobody should be declaring victory here today,” Sarlo said. “I always have maintained that revenues are very, very optimistic, but at the end of the day the treasurer has made it clear he’s the only one who certifies the revenues. Once he locked down the $32.9 billion number, we began crafting a spending plan to match it.”
The budget for the year that starts July 1 passed the Assembly 52-25 with little debate, after clearing the Senate 29-11. Michael Drewniak, a Christie spokesman, said the governor won’t sign the measure today, though he’s expected to do so before the end of the current fiscal year.
Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, a Democrat from Cherry Hill, was among the lawmakers who voted against the budget, even as he was among a team of Democrats and Republicans who negotiated its terms with Christie’s administration. While it was a “better product” than the plan Christie initially outlined, Greenwald said he disagreed with eliminating almost $400 million in property-tax rebates.
“I see New Jersey losing its economic and competitive edge to other states in this country and until we address that head-on we won’t get it back,” Greenwald said in an interview in the Capitol. “He continually fails to address the No. 1 issue in New Jersey, which is property taxes,” he said of Christie.
The last time New Jersey’s budget topped $32 billion was in fiscal 2008, under Democrat Jon Corzine. Christie, the first Republican elected governor in the Garden State since 1997, took office in January 2010. The budget has increased every year of his term amid an economic recovery and rising tax receipts.
Standard & Poor’s rates New Jersey’s general-obligation securities AA-, three steps below top. The New York-based company has kept a negative outlook on the debt since September over concerns that revenue may not reach budget forecasts.
Christie was forced to lower the estimates for this fiscal year by about $500 million after tax collections came in under budgeted levels. For the 10 months ended April 30, revenue was 0.2 percent higher than revised projections, according to the state Treasury Department.
The governor’s 2014 budget estimates a 5.2 percent gain in revenue from the revised target for this year, to reach $32.8 billion, according to William Quinn, a spokesman for Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff.