Bridgegate-weakened Christie offers ‘no new tax’ pledge amid debt crisis and coming collision over pension payments

TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie will boast today about a balanced budget and no new taxes and renew his claims about the effectiveness of bipartisan government, but members of the Assembly Budget Committee fear deepening debt in a crisis-bedeviled State of New Jersey while Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) called full public pension payments “non-negotiable.”

“This budget, when you take out pension and health care costs and debt service, is $2.2 billion smaller than Fiscal Year 2008,” Christie will say today in his scheduled annual budget address before a joint session of the legislature. “Over the last five years, we have cut discretionary spending by $2.2 billion. This has been an era of fiscal restraint. The budget proposes making the largest pension payment ever at $2.25 billion.”

Christie will make the case that the payment is nearly the equivalent of the total payments made in the ten years by five different governors before the arrival of his administration.

But he wants more pension overhauling.

“The reforms we enacted together are going to save New Jersey’s state and local governments $122 billion in the 30 years from 2011 to 2041. Together, we are cleaning up the mess of the past. But this simply isn’t enough,” Christie will say.

But “the past” looks like the present, according to members of the Budget Committee.

On the eve of Christie’s budget address, Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36) and Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-13) yesterday clashed on the Assembly Budget Committee.

Chair of the committee, Schaer said Christie continues to promise “no new taxes” while alarmingly increasing state debt and burdening future generations.

He and fellow Democrats singled out a rising state debt of well over $2 billion between last fiscal year and this one as evidence that the state continues to be a mess, no less fiscally Spartan for the presence of Republican Christie.

O’Scanlon objected.

“If you want to go through this budget and find places to cut I’m all for that and I’m sure the administration would be happy to endorse that,” said the Republican.

“The Christie administration has proven to be a responsible steward of New Jersey’s fiscal situation, limiting debt growth to just a fraction of the levels of the past,” he added. “This administration’s utilization of responsible debt strategies and consistent vigilance has resulted in dramatically reduced debt growth rates compared to the decade before Governor Christie was elected.”

Schaer bristled.

“Don’t gloss over the distant or immediate past,” said the budget committee chairman. “Our responsibility is to understand and to constructively see where we can establish new priorities.”

As chairman, Schaer tried to impose what he argued is the frank reality of a state crisis that gains nothing by partisan sniping on either end, and said Christie, like the beleaguered Jon Corzine before him, has not addressed underlying causes.

Assemblyman Joe Cryan (D-20), with the testimony of OLS’s David Rosen in front of him, dismissed as bogus Christie’s attempts to portray himself as a fiscal hawk. “Despite the hoopla and despite the bluster of it all there is new debt under this administration,” said the former Democratic State Party chairman.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19), chair of the Transportation Committee, was in the room.

“He’s back-loaded the consequences [of not making tough decisions] to his second term, when it’s too late to do anything about it because now he’s there,” Wisniewski said. 

Hobbled by Bridgegate, Christie will deliver his address on the estimated $32-33 billion budget at 2 p.m. at the Statehouse.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a mortified source speculated that the governor will try to create a distraction in the form of some kind of tax reduction that won’t address the underlying debt problem.

Bridgegate-weakened Christie offers ‘no new tax’ pledge amid debt crisis and coming collision over pension payments