Christie Revenue Goal ‘Reasonable,’ Legislative Analyst Says

After three straight years of overestimated revenue, Governor Chris Christie’s forecast for New Jersey’s fiscal 2016 spending plan is “reasonable,” according to legislative budget officer David Rosen.

The legislature’s target for the year that starts July 1 is $38.6 million above Christie’s, while current-year collections will be $22.5 million below the administration’s, Rosen, of the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services, said Monday at a budget hearing. This year marks the closest a governor and the agency have been since at least 1994, he said.

Overly-optimistic forecasts have contributed to eight credit-rating downgrades under Christie, a record for a New Jersey governor. Christie, a second-term Republican considering a run for president, has forecast total revenue of $33.8 billion for fiscal 2016, a 3.8 percent increase from this year. Rosen is projecting a 4 percent increase.

“I am pleased this year’s budget discussions will not feature a clash of conflicting revenue forecasts,” Rosen said. “Without the distraction of whose numbers to believe, we have the opportunity to look at important budget trends and issues.”

‘Dr. Kevorkian’

Rosen has provided budget analysis to legislatures run by both parties for more than two decades. Christie, who took office in 2010, has called him a “handmaiden” to Democrats who control the current legislature, and once branded him “The Dr. Kevorkian of the Numbers,” a reference to the physician who advocated assisted suicide.

The budget officer said New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund will “squeak through” the fiscal year that begins July 1 and won’t have cash starting in 2017, he said. He said the state is also running a surplus of about 1 percent of expenditures, with forecasting errors typically off by about 3 percent on average nationally.

He pointed to a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts that said New Jersey’s current cash cushion would cover three days of operations, the 47th-lowest of all states.

Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff, Christie’s treasurer, told the panel that the governor’s budget relies on $110 million from lawsuits, including funds from Exxon Mobil Corp.’s settlement of a decades-old pollution case. He also said the administration doesn’t have a backup plan should it lose a court fight with unions, which sued to compel Christie to put more money into state pension funds next year.

Sidamon-Eristoff said revenue is in line with forecasts in the current year, and he expects the state to meet its target for the next budget.

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