TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie passed a roughly $29.7 billion budget today, using his powerful line item veto to redline nearly $900 million in spending for women’s health, police and fire, and property tax relief for seniors and disabled from the plan passed this week by the Democrat-controlled Legislature.
Christie called the spending plan proposed by the majority party “unconstitutional” because it used what he said were vastly inflated revenue numbers and gimmicks to come up with about $1.2 billion more in spending than the governor proposed in March.
“I have aggressively used the line-item veto and absolute veto in this budget and accompanying bills,” Christie said. “This year, unfortunately, the Democratic Legislature decided it is time to go back to the future,” spending on “auto-pilot.”
The governor removed $500 million in funding for suburban and low-performing school districts but left in $447 million earmarked for the so-called Abbott Districts as the result of a recent Supreme Court decision.
Christie said the revenue figures used by the Dmeocrats to justify their spending were a “fantasy.”
“They just made it up so they can spend it,” he said. “You can’t do that in your house, and I won’t allow it to happen at the Statehouse.”
Christie also vetoed a separate bill that would have instituted a tax on incomes over $1 million, as well as the accompanying school funding bill that put money back into the education system statewide.
“My budget flatly refuses to raise taxes on businesses and individuals,” he said. “The Democrats will criticize us for not raising taxes, but they had their chance at the helm of our economy for 15 years.”
Christie said 71 percent of the residents affected by the millionaire’s tax are small business owners, a number the administration got from tax returns listing some amount of personal business incomes. But the 12,269 qualifying returns reported only some amount of personal business income, and are not identified in any way as small business owners.
While Christie said that is not the picture of “golf courses and Lear jets” that the Legislature painted, the millionaires taxed under the Democrats’ bill are “trying to establish and create jobs in New Jersey.”
“I don’t think all Democrats are in favor of this, even though they all voted for it,” he said of the surtax. “The last thing they want to do is start driving people out of this state.”
His staff worked tirelessly to cut “over $1.3 billion in spending, and to do so in a responsible manner,” he said. “This is not something I relish doing; it’s my constitutional responsibility.” He said he vetoed public safety grants, women’s health funding, and other appropriations because, simply, “We can’t afford it.” Speaking about Democratic expectations of a lawsuit settlement that would fund the police and fire grants, he said, “The money they found in the cushions of the couch, I looked, it’s not there.”
His offer to triple the property tax homestead credit went unfulfilled due to two things, he said: reduced savings from reforms and increased school spending, care of the Supreme Court. “They passed their appropriations bill,” he said. “Barry Albin signed it.”
The Democrats wrote nearly $365 million in revenue into the budget that the administration did not certify, and included $190 million in surplus that Christie removed. They also inserted $300 million that Christie initially put in his budget from savings achieved with pension and benefits reform, even though new estimates project closer to $10 million in savings. Christie cut $900 million from the Democrats’ budget and vetoed another $400 million.
As far as language restricting the governor’s $300 million Medicaid waiver, he said, “We got around that just fine.”
The governor’s budget continues the plan to close the Vineland Developmental Center, reversing a Democratic plan to keep it open.
Christie also used the veto to slash some items below where he had funded them in March, leading some to say the governor’s veto was vindictive. Among the line items cut were spending and salaries in both the Senate and the Assembly staff office where he cut more than $3.6 million.
Christie also cut transitional aid used for distressed cities such as Trenton, dropping the funding from $139 million to just $10 million.
Among the other Democratic initiatives that did not appear in the final budget was the senior and disabled property tax freeze ($61 million), municipal public safety aid grants ($50 million), nursing home recipients for medical assistance ($25 million), tuition aid grants ($46 million), Urban Enterprise Zones ($47 million), Legal Servcies ($10 million) and family planning services ($7.5 million).