Treasury budget would see increase; lawmakers discuss gift cards, other issues

TRENTON – The governor’s proposed budget calls for an increase of $122.9 million in state funds for the Department of Treasury “largely due to an additional $147.5 million in general obligation debt service,” according to testimony delivered today by State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

Approximately $2.2 billion in expenditures will pass through Treasury accounts in fiscal year 2013, the treasurer told the committee today.

Sidamon-Eristoff took questions from state senators regarding a variety of topics – including the collection of unused gift card balances, a growing issue in Trenton as major gift card players have opposed the state’s desire to acquire unspent gift card funds under an unclaimed property law.  

“After two years, the companies take unused or unspent balances and empty the account,” Sidamon-Eristoff said.

“We maintain that it’s important for the state to step in and take custody of that money in trust for the benefit of New Jersey consumers,” he said. “If that consumer does not take (the money)…it’s appropriate for the state to benefit. It’s not and shouldn’t be the money of the issuing entity. It’s the consumer’s money. If it’s not the consumer’s, it should benefit everybody.”

Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee Chair Paul Sarlo, (D-36), Wood-Ridge, questioned the state’s rigorous approach to defending the law through litigation, asking if it’s time “to abandon this crusade.”

“You’ll hear on various networks or nationwide publications that American Express is pulling out of New Jersey,” Sarlo said. “It’s sending the wrong message. We’re trying to be competitive and attract jobs.”

The budget appropriates $46.5 million to the Division of Pensions and Benefits and $12.9 million to the Division of Investment from the Pension and Health Benefits Trust Funds, according to the treasurer’s testimony.

The treasury’s work force includes approximately 3,116 full-time employees, which is a reduction of 176 positions from the staffing levels when Gov. Chris Christie took office in 2010.

Sidamon-Eristoff said the reductions in staffing are due to “a continuing high level of retirements by long-service employees as well as the impact of our ongoing efforts to achieve greater efficiencies in the delivery of government services.”

The treasurer also said that over the past year, the Treasury’s Division of Pension and Benefits successfully implemented the pension and health benefit reforms that the state approved last June.

The Treasury also worked with the Department of Transportation in helping develop the governor’s Transportation Capital Plan, which will fund $1.6 billion in highway and mass transit projects annually over five years.

Sidamon-Eristoff also told the committee that the Division of the Lottery received a boost from the $656 Mega Millions jackpot last month, and sales have increased 4.4 percent so far in this fiscal year.

Earlier story:

Sarlo, Sidamon-Eristoff joust over revenue projection outlook

  Treasury budget would see increase; lawmakers discuss gift cards, other issues