TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie said there’s no money tree, but Democrats are looking anyway. The ready-to-spend Dems contest that there is, in fact, a money tree – well, this is the Garden State – and that it’s pruned and pared by the middle class as millionaires look around for the nearest day laborer. Christie swears there is no such tree.
Even if the two sides could agree to the existence of the revenue tree, they still wouldn’t agree on the amount of fruit it will bear.
Democrats have decided to write their own budget, which will be unveiled in detail on Monday, but they are banking on $800 million in unexpected revenues whereas Christie released his certified number on Friday that looks to be almost $300 million less.
Insiders are looking at the $300 million shortfall as a Democratic set-up to have Christie bring his fiscal ax out of the shed and make some more painful cuts of his choosing. Democratic sources explained that Christie isn’t bound to certify the treasury-approved revenue figures he is banking on, and that he is procedurally out of order by certifying revenue for a budget – as Christie made clear weeks ago following the Abbott decision – that is clearly in the hands of the lawmakers right now. By Friday, they said, assuming the Legislature comes to agreement on a spending document between now and then, it’ll be Christie’s budget for which he can certify any revenue number that he wants.
On Monday, the Democratic majorities will introduce the initial budget bill, which will be heard in Senate Budget Committee at 9 a.m.
Both the Senate and the Assembly will conduct a session to review the budget on Wednesday and both chambers are also scheduled to meet on Thursday, the last day of the fiscal year. What follows after that is anyone’s guess; most Trenton insiders expect a series of line-item vetoes and, one source said, a likely call from the majority Dems for all legislators to come back to the chamber for veto override votes. The Legislature would need a super-majority to replace any funding and spending that Christie lines out, but even though they don’t have votes, they could call all of the GOPers back to cast their votes “against” suburban school funding, senior property tax freeze, and – most importantly for political purposes – the millionaire’s tax.
Christie will have a very short amount of time to make his final decisions in order to avoid any sort of governmental shutdown. Aside from the $300 million discrepancy in revenue projections, the majority is also planning to use $700 million in surplus funds and an unidentified $300 million that they claim came from found efficiencies.
By Republicans’ count, that’s $1.8 billion in money they aren’t sure the state has to spend in the budget. This represents something like a 6 percent increase over last year’s budget. The likely refrain: there is no money tree.
On Tuesday, Assemblyman Scott Rumana, (R-40), is before the Joint Legislative Committee on Ethical Standards to see whether they will dismiss the remainder of an ethical complaint against him, stemming from his time as mayor of Wayne.
On Monday, the Senate is having a late afternoon session to vote on the Assembly’s amendment removing the out-of-state care provision from the pension and benefits reform bill. That means Gov. Chris Christie will either sign the bill on Monday night – his pen is already uncapped – or on Tuesday morning. Either way, he has already made his media rounds touting it, so expect he moves straight to budget talk – at least for now.
Some of the Democrats opposed to the bill were upset last week that leadership hadn’t used the votes the majority was providing to pass the Christie-championed reforms as chips in the budget debate, converting some of the political capital spent by the Dems into actual leverage over the powerful governor.
Also at the Senate session on Monday will be the bill vetoing the privatization of the New Jersey Network, which was approved by the Assembly last Thursday.
Late last week, sources said some Democratic legislators were being urged to back off the veto by promoters of Christie’s plan to move the TV station into the hands of WNET. But state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37), sponsor of the veto bill, announced a Monday press conference on the matter, which reflects the support of her colleagues is fairly strong, as sources reported to State Street Wire last week.
Some Dems are already searching for an alternative route for the station, so that if they override the Christie plan they aren’t left holding a bill that the governor would not be willing to pay. Because as Christie said his mother told him, there is no money tree. The search goes on.