Weekly Roundup: Week of Feb. 20

TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie gave his annual Budget address Tuesday afternoon, unveiling a $32.1 billion budget that calls for more state aid for schools and colleges, keeps many social programs in place for the neediest, and proposes to cut income taxes across the board by 10 percent.

The tone of the address was somewhat subdued, given that arguably the most dramatic portion – the income tax cut proposal – was unveiled last month in Christie’s State of the State speech. Still, it gave him an opportunity to stress the benefits of such a cut and display vintage Christie.

“Lower tax rates will relieve over-burdened middle-class families.  They will keep job creators here.  They will begin to bring us into a more competitive situation with our neighbors in the region.  For make no mistake, even with the 10 percent cut that I propose, our tax rates in many brackets will still be higher than New York’s, higher than Connecticut’s, higher than Pennsylvania’s.”

The Democrats weren’t buying the argument and put up a united front in a press conference of their own, saying that Christie was once again prioritizing the needs of wealthy New Jerseyans before those of middle-class residents.

Again, they said Christie is focusing on the wrong tax, saying he should be focusing on cutting and controlling property taxes instead of looking to slice income taxes. They said towns will continue to struggle because they won’t see any increases in municipal aid. 

Minimum Wage

In their attempt to further burnish their roles as fighters for the working-class, Assembly Democrats in the Labor Committee championed a minimum wage bill A2162, which calls for increasing it from $7.25 to $8.50.

Business groups like the state Chamber of Commerce and the New Jersey Business and Industry Association were opposed to the bill, saying it would raise costs for employers and stifle the hiring of future workers.

Supporters of the bill, however, said that with escalating increases in cost-of-living expenses, the time has come. The state’s minimum wage hasn’t been raised since 2006, and several other states have higher rates. The committee released the bill along party lines.

Not running … again

Despite saying countless times that he’s not interested, the powers that be from the Republican Party are still asking Gov. Christie to consider running for president this year. With a divided Republican Party that has former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum engaged in a heated primary battle, the search for a uniting figure remains.

Christie, however, maintains his support for Romney, and even went on attack mode against Santorum while making the rounds of various national media news shows, criticizing him for his debate performance in Arizona and what Christie labeled as seemingly insignificant wins in caucus states. He told CNN’s Piers Morgan he wasn’t feeling the “Santorum Surge.”

School aid

The state issued its K-8 school aid numbers, $7.82 billion in total.

While the administration said overall spending on education will be at the highest level in state history, the state’s so-called Abbott districts were among the hardest hit.

Twenty-three of the 31 will lose funding under the proposed figures.

In addition, lawmakers from some of the state’s far northern counties – Warren, Sussex and Morris – said they were being shortchanged as a result of what they called an antiquated formula that hurts rural and suburban districts.

Weekly Roundup: Week of Feb. 20