In the past, Governor Chris Christie’s budget address has always had the prospect of higher political ambitions looming. He has given addresses during courting periods with a Republican establishment eager to have him run for president (2012) and, last year, he gave the address with the majority of the state knowing that he was going to launch himself into a bid for the Republican candidacy, despite his claims to the contrary. Each year, the remarks have been peppered with national issues or comparisons to New Jersey on a national scale.
This year, following his withdrawal from the presidential race, the only thing that will be looming for Christie during his budget address is the prospect of making a roomful of unhappy Democratic legislators happy to see him. The budget address this year will mark one of his last chances to play nice with the Democrats, put forward a budget they will work with and, maybe, start making progress on saving his legacy.
PolitickerNJ spoke with Senator Paul Sarlo (the chair of the Senate Budget Committee) and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg. While Sarlo said that he had yet to be briefed on the upcoming speech, here are some of the main issues that they say Governor Christie needs to focus on during his upcoming budget address.
- The Transportation Trust Fund. Unless action is taken with the budget soon, New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund will run out of money in June. A failure to supply the fund could mean disaster for New Jersey’s already-crumbling roads and bridges. As of now, one of the solutions that has been widely suggested has been an increase to New Jersey’s gas tax. As he pursued the presidency, Christie took a hard-line on not increasing any taxes in the state. Now that he is home, is that stance likely to change?According to Sarlo, finding a way to fix the TTF would have been an important issue to tackle whether Christie “was still a candidate or not.”“I don’t foresee him coming in and raising a bunch of taxes,” Sarlo said. “It is in everyone’s best interest if we can negotiate a budget.”
- Pensions/Health Benefits. Another big issue Democrats say they hope the Governor will find a way to negotiate on is the state’s pension system. As it stands, the pension system in New Jersey is $40 billion short of what it would need in order to fulfill future pension commitments. As with the gas tax, Christie has taken a hard stance on pensions, with a plan to lower the state’s input in order to save money.“Transportation Trust fund, pension, pension health payments, education, none of these are small issues,” Weinberg said.
- Taxes. Whether an election year or not, taxes are always a central point to the budget address. This year proves no different. New Jersey’s property taxes have surged and landowners paid an extra $537 million in 2015. Christie’s address will probably focus on these and other taxes, especially considering New Jersey’s high tax burden and the impact taxes have on the state’s budget.
- Education. In New Jersey, as in the rest of the country, higher education has become prohibitively expensive for many. Students in NJ, like everywhere else, are taking out massive loans to fund their education. Christie will likely bring up ways to alleviate some of the burden on students in NJ, much like he did last year.
Christie will give his budget address at 2 p.m. on Tuesday February 16.