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Column: Christie's Battle with Dems Quite a Show

After spending vetoes, governor calls for a special legislative session on tax cuts.

Gov. Chris Christie had the last word on state spending last Friday, vetoing most of the new expenditures the Democrats had sought within the budget and in separate bills.

And then he went further, calling the Legislature back for a command performance, a special summer session on Monday to try to bully them into the tax cut he has been seeking all year.

Rarely, when there is divided government, does the theater that is the process of enacting a state budget in New Jersey disappoint.

And that’s what all of this is, political theater.

Because the Democrats are not going to pass Christie’s 10 percent across-the-board tax cut proposal as it gives more money back to the wealthy than to the poor and middle class. And there’s no way Christie is going to approve the Democrats’ plan to revitalize the Homestead Rebate program as they want to pay for it with a higher income tax on millionaires.

So all that’s left is the posturing.

The November elections play a role in this. The Republicans hope Christie’s promised statewide summer tour telling people that the “Corzine Democrats” won’t give them tax relief will help boost state Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R-Monmouth) in his effort to unseat U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-Hudson).

Depending on what happens with the economy over the next few months, bashing the Democrats while also invoking the name of the party’s last governor, who no one seemed to like very much, could also hurt President Barack Obama and help Christie’s ally Mitt Romney.

And it’s in the Democrats’ best interests not to give Christie a tax cut he can use in campaigning for re-election next year.

Meanwhile, there were many casualties of the governor’s red pen.

Christie line-item vetoed from the $31.7 billion budget some or all of the money added by Democrats for nursing homes, medical day care, legal services, transitional aid to municipalities and Educational Opportunity Fund grants for disadvantaged students.

The governor’s budget vetoes were significantly less than the amount he cut last year. But this year, the Democrats gave him so many other spending bills to nix.

And nix them he did.

Christie vetoed Democrats’ attempt at restoring the $7.5 million for women’s health clinics that he had cut from the 2012 fiscal year budget. He also said no to $50 million to restore the Earned Income Tax Credit to its pre-Christie level. The tax credit piggybacks off the federal credit, benefiting those with low incomes who work.

The largest spending he vetoed was $330 million in aid to municipalities. The New Jersey State League of Municipalities had lobbied hard to get the state to restore energy taxes paid to the state that it says rightfully belong to communities. The Democrats’ bill would have restored the aid to 2008 levels, returning the money to municipalities over a five-year period. That aid would have to have been used for property tax relief. 

Christie’s budget does, however, include nearly $350 million in business tax cuts.

There’s no doubt the Democrats had tried to advance a number of programs to help not only the needy, but all property taxpayers. But how do you pay for them, when the Legislature’s own nonpartisan office says the budget is short $1.4 billion even as the year is just beginning?

Municipalities argue the energy receipts are rightfully, legally, theirs and if that is true then the state should cut the budget elsewhere to make good.

The Democrats have offered to pay for their biggest tax cut—the Homestead Rebate restoration—through the higher income tax on the wealthiest residents. Christie has not yet dealt with those bills but has already vetoed a millionaire’s tax twice before.

Given the uncertainty about revenues in the budget, it would be irresponsible to enact a tax cut without a new, specified revenue source.

But it makes for good theater. And the spotlights will be blazing for Christie’s message to the special session. Pull up a chair, watch, and decide for yourself whether to applaud, boo or ask for your money back.

Colleen O'Dea is a writer, editor, researcher, data analyst, Web page designer and mapper with nearly three decades in the news business. Her column appears weekly.

Phil July 05, 2012 at 04:32 PM
While I agree with you the focus should be on property tax relief, don't look to those other states and their consolidations as a panacea. They all have issues as well, some a direct result of large county based services, some regional in nature.
agent itchy July 05, 2012 at 06:16 PM
Phil, NJ ranks #1 in government employees per capita. when i ride my bike from my house in Cinn to Palmyra i will travel two miles and pass through three separate police jurisdictions and three separate school districts. that sir, is quintessential government waste. to further make my point look to Virginia Beach Metro PD which serves nearly the same population and land mass as Burlington County with one police chief (instead of 30). how much do you think 30 police departments cost? how much does the BurlCo sheriff's dept cost? you think maybe we can fold our local departments into the existing sheriff's dept and save maybe $4 million? NYC has one superintendent with a student population far greater than the 40 or so districts in BurlCo. how much do you think 40 school districts cost? you think we can save maybe $5 million and consolidate them too? Ask Gov Christie if he supports municipal consolidation and then ask your mayors, chiefs, superintendents and DPW directors what they think.
MtownLifer July 07, 2012 at 05:23 PM
Some of you lefties really baffle me. You forget that when Christie was elected he was left with two options cut spending, or fall off the fiscal cliff.You beat up on Christie for cuts to programs that many of you use, but never paid for in the first place. You beat up on the wealthy for not paying their fair share when 50% of the workforce pay little or no taxes anyway. We are hundreds of billions in debt in pension funds, health care costs, and bond indebtedness, but you want to spend more money that we don't have so our kids can pick up the tab. We've had decades of Democrat giveaways to special interests in this state just so they could buy their reelections. Liberal government spending on social welfare will fail because our government's both state and federal have never ran one successful program yet. And, to Ric, Who got us into the most costly war in money and lives, Vietnam, and who got us out?
Phil July 10, 2012 at 02:10 PM
Like I said, I support the principal behind it I just don't believe it's a panacea to the property tax ills. It's not like you are going to eliminate 29 chief jobs through consolidation. You'll probably have 1 chief, 5-6 deputy or assistant chiefs, and higher ranks that you see in state police force trickle down into the current forces and chiefs. Same with the superintendents and school administration. You'd have one but you'd have a lot of assistant superintendents. Again, you'd probably eliminate half the administrative jobs. I don't think you'd reduce the number of police. I know my town is 5 officers below the recommended staffing level for safety as defined by the feds and state so consolidating might bring us up to the proper level assuming the other towns are where they should be (or over).
Phil July 10, 2012 at 02:18 PM
I'm so tired of the "50% of the workforce don't pay taxes" argument from my fellow righties. I'm central/right leaning and I know that argument is a joke. Simple fact of the matter is 50% of the workforce doesn't earn enough to pay taxes so stop using that argument. They don't earn enough so the top 5% can keep padding their bank accounts and the dividends returned to the other top 45%. That is the problem. Both sides give away stuff. Corbett gave a tax break to an energy company that was going to build the plant anyway because the natural resource was at that location. There was absolutely zero need to do that. We are just under a hundred billion of dollars in debt on pensions because administrations of both parties didn't pay their $3B payment for 18 of 20 years and this governor has only made 1/7 of that payment the last 2 years. Put that money in when it was supposed to have been in and we're not in this mess. To me, that's the state government's fault and they need to, by any means necessary, fill that hole. Townships did the same thing meanwhile the worker had money taken out every paycheck with no say in how much or where it went or how it was invested, just with the promise from the state that they would grow it enough so that they would have a steady paycheck coming once they retired.

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