N.J.'s revenue shortfall predicted to surpass $400 million

Posted: February 23, 2014

New Jersey's revenue shortfall appears to have exceeded $400 million through January, seven months into the fiscal year, according to an Office of Legislative Services memo released Friday.

The memo, sent to members of the Senate and Assembly budget committees, indicates a widening shortfall as Gov. Christie prepares to deliver a budget address Tuesday. By the end of December, revenues were $331 million below expectations for the $33 billion budget, according to Department of Treasury figures.

David Rosen, the legislative budget and finance officer, noted that the $400 million figure does not include an apparent $165 million shortfall in the opening balance of the budget for fiscal 2014, which began July 1.

Nor does it include an anticipated shortfall in Internet gambling revenue, which the administration projected would net the state $160 million. Through January, online gambling - which became legal in New Jersey in November - has brought in $2.68 million.

To hit the $160 million target, the state would need to take in $31.46 million a month for the next five months, Rosen said in the memo.

The Department of Treasury has not yet released official January revenue figures; it usually makes monthly revenue announcements midway through the following month.

With Christie's speech on the horizon, OLS issued the memo to budget committee members based on revenue collections reported in the state accounting system at the end of January.

While OLS knows how much cash the state has taken in, it does not have access to the administration's revenue targets from January, meaning its assessment of the shortfall involves "some assumptions," Rosen said Friday.

Still, "the reality is, we think they're down 400-plus," he said.

Treasury spokesman Chris Santarelli did not comment Friday on the OLS figures.

"All matters of the state's revenue and expenses will be addressed by the governor and the treasurer next week, as part of the governor's budget address," Santarelli said.

Democrats appear to be gearing up for a battle over the shortfall. "It almost seems like it's a repeat performance with this administration and this treasurer," Senate Budget Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo (D., Bergen) said Friday. "Clearly the economy is improving, but we have overly optimistic revenue" projections.

Between the current revenue shortfall, the expected shortfall in Internet gambling revenue, and an additional $700 million the state is supposed to put into the pension system next year, "you've got a billion-dollar headache," Sarlo said.

An annual debt report released by the Treasury this week showed that New Jersey's bonded debt rose to more than $40 billion in fiscal 2013, a 4.1 percent increase over the previous year. The percentage increase was the largest since 2009.

Other debt - much of it related to pension and personnel costs - rose to $38 billion in 2013, up from $33 billion the year before.


mhanna@phillynews.com609-989-8990

@maddiehanna

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