Christie rejects allocations in state budget

Gov. Christie answers a budget question after vetoing some of the items in the Democratic proposal.
Gov. Christie answers a budget question after vetoing some of the items in the Democratic proposal. (MEL EVANS / Associated Press)
Posted: July 01, 2011

TRENTON - Gov. Christie ripped apart a budget Thursday that was offered to him by Democrats, calling the plan "unconstitutional," and rejected allocations for the poor, the sick, the elderly, students, and urban residents.

After nixing more than $900 million in spending and vetoing an income tax increase for millionaires, the Republican governor signed a scaled-down $29.7 billion document hours before the new fiscal year was to begin, averting a potential government shutdown.

The Democrats, who control the Legislature, did not say whether they would try to override Christie's vetoes.

The Democrats "decided to deceive citizens with a budget that makes them look like Santa Claus in an election year," Christie said at a news conference in the Statehouse. He came to Trenton to provide "adult supervision," Christie reminded reporters.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), fresh off a bipartisan agreement with Christie last week on health and benefits reform, called the budget after Christie's line-item vetoes "mean-spirited" and said this was his "most disappointing day" as a legislator.

"It is almost impossible to stomach some of the cuts he has made. I can only characterize it as cruel," Sweeney said, adding that it would be hard for him to work with Christie going forward.

Christie released documents that showed hundreds of vetoes of Democratic line items after 5 p.m. Thursday without first briefing legislative leaders. Sweeney said he was still digesting the changes, but was particularly shocked by the $48 million taken from the Tuition Aid Grant program, which allows needy New Jersey students to attend state schools. Nearly one in three full-time New Jersey students is a recipient.

Christie cut money to the tuition program below what it was in his original budget proposal, released in February.

Democrats rejected that budget plan and decided to offer their own, adding more than $1 billion for school aid and programs for the poor and middle class.

After slashing school aid in last year's budget, Christie restored $850 million in the new plan. A little over half of that was ordered by the New Jersey Supreme Court in May for the state's 31 neediest districts. The rest will be spread among all school districts.

But Christie said the state could not afford all the items that Democrats put in their "Fantasy Island budget." He said Democrats "wanted to suck up" to their base, which was angry about the pension and health-care deal that party leaders made with Christie last week.

"And they wanted to embarrass me," he added. "But look at me, I'm beyond embarrassment."

For the second year, a longtime allocation of $7.5 million for family planning services was removed, as was $7 million for an AIDS drug-distribution program.

Christie cut medical assistance for those receiving help at home and in nursing homes, and reinstated proposed Medicaid cuts.

Medicaid was a hot-button issue in the budget fight because Christie wants to make the income requirement so low that a working mother earning about $100 a week would be ineligible. Christie rejected Democratic attempts in the budget that would have prevented him from increasing copayments and making it harder for new applicants to qualify.

The Medicaid changes still must be approved by the Obama administration.

Christie eliminated funding for legal programs for the poor at Rutgers University and cut $10 million, or 40 percent, of funding for civil legal services for the needy.

Higher education was hit on several fronts. Funds were eliminated for 306 additional positions at Rutgers University and 101 at Rowan University. Among the latter positions were some intended for the new Cooper Medical School of Rowan University in Camden.

Camden, the poorest city in the state, was hit hard in Christie's budget.

Transitional aid to municipalities - a fund from which Camden received $69 million last year to balance its budget - fell to $10 million. That figure is $139 million less than in Christie's original budget proposal.

The governor did not restore the money for the Urban Enterprise Zone program, which is intended to stimulate economic development in poor urban areas. And a Democratic plan to send $50 million to police departments in high-crime communities like Camden was rejected.

Even the Battleship New Jersey in Camden lost $1.7 million.

The governor vetoed the entire $2 million allocation for grants for after-school and summer activities for at-risk children. And $3 million for the New Jersey After 3 after-school program - the entire allocation - was eliminated.

Environmental programs were trimmed by at least $12 million.

Christie vetoed a bill that would have raised the tax rate on income over $1 million, except for senior retirement income up to $100,000. Companion legislation to provide $412 million in additional funding to schools with the proceeds from the tax on millionaires also was rejected by the governor.

Separate legislation to restore a 25 percent cut made last year to the earned income tax credit for the working poor was denied.

Christie's budget does provides property tax rebates for middle-class and senior and disabled homeowners. It will be funded at half the level appropriated in 2009, the year before the rebates were suspended.

The spending plan also includes $180 million in corporate tax cuts.

Christie said the Democrats' plan was unconstitutional because it relied on the state's collecting hundreds of millions of dollars more in revenue than what he certified would be available, and it overestimated savings from a new health and pension benefit law.

Democrats, he said, fabricated "out of thin air" money the state would not have.

"They just made it up so they can spend it," he said. "You can't do that in your house, and I will not allow it to happen in the Statehouse."

He made that point clear in his veto statement when he explained massive cuts to funds for the Legislature staff. In a move not spelled out in his original budget in February, Christie slashed Senate salaries and wages by 59 percent, and Assembly salaries and wages 24 percent.

In his official explanation for the wage cuts, Christie admonished the Democrats: "The budget as adopted by the Legislature relied upon exaggerated revenue estimates, flawed assumptions concerning fund balances, and ignored the harsh reality of its spending decisions."


Contact staff writer Matt Katz at 609-217-8355, mkatz@phillynews.com, or @mattkatz00 on Twitter. Read his blog, "Christie Chronicles," at philly.com/christiechronicles.

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