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6-25-12 State Budget, Related Issues in the News
The Record (news note) - NJ Assembly budget panel hears university merger bill …A complicated plan to revamp higher education in New Jersey goes before the Assembly Budget Committee on Monday...

Philadelphia Inquirer - Fights loom for Christie, N.J. Dems

Philadelphia Inquirer - Christie, veto pen await Democrats' $32B budget

The Record - Budget and tax breaks up for vote, Christie ready with veto… “Votes are also coming on other major issues, including teacher tenure reform and decriminalizing marijuana…”

Philadelphia Inquirer - Fights loom for Christie, N.J. Dems

TRENTON - On a day so busy that the Statehouse cafeteria stayed open an extra three hours for hungry lobbyists who were monitoring dozens of bills, Democrats scampered in and out of meetings to try to put together a $31.7 billion budget to send to Gov. Christie.

Turns out, they also needed to put out a fire that began Thursday and lasted well into Friday afternoon.

Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D., Union) - who was ousted last year from the Assembly's No. 2 post by Camden County Democrat Louis Greenwald - corralled a group of nine maverick Democrats.

Quickly dubbed the Cryan Nine, the group threatened to vote against the Democratic budget, potentially derailing it. Their conditions: Postpone a separate vote to reshuffle the state's universities - a plan pushed and prioritized by Christie and South Jersey Democrats, including Greenwald. Otherwise, they would block the budget.

Meanwhile, throughout Thursday - as though he were already down the Shore for the summer - the Republican governor took to Twitter to rank his top 10 Bruce Springsteen songs.

The dichotomy illustrated Christie's role in Statehouse politics and policy: He sets the conversation and dictates the agenda - but is more than willing to stay out of the fray and let Democrats fight among themselves.

Christie proposes a budget in February and then lets the Democrats who control the Legislature hold hearings all spring and make changes. As the inhabitant of one of the most powerful governor chairs in the country, he then can line-item veto any spending he doesn't like.

The backdrop to budget negotiations is that Christie enjoys the kind of celebrity that last week put him both on the cover of Newsweek and in a largely favorable article in the Atlantic, in which a reporter accompanied him to a Springsteen show.

Indeed, Christie's fame is so significant that much of the debate over this year's budget has been colored by a national speech nine weeks from now that he hasn't even been selected to deliver.

Christie wants a 10 percent across-the-board income tax cut as part of the budget, but Democrats are reluctant to hand him a victory that he could use to build his GOP bona fides during a hypothetical speech at the Republican convention in August. (Christie hasn't been chosen as a keynote speaker, let alone as the vice presidential candidate, but the concern is nonetheless oft-mentioned.)

In May, Christie told Republicans in Wisconsin he was doing the unthinkable: getting Democratic legislative leaders to agree to a tax cut. Actually delivering on that would certainly help his immediate political prospects at home and long-term political future nationally.

But poor economic signs during the last couple of months indicated that New Jersey revenue wasn't as high as Christie had envisioned. Democrats said Christie couldn't afford a tax cut of the magnitude he proposed.

Still, with Christie's popularity and his success at beating up Democrats in town hall meetings and news conferences, Democrats felt they had to give him something. Plus, he vowed to reject any budget that didn't include a tax cut - a threat that could potentially shut down state government.

So the Democratic budget, which passed legislative committees last week and is scheduled to be voted on Monday by both the Assembly and Senate, sets aside $183 million for an income tax credit based on how much a taxpayer pays in property taxes.

The credit wouldn't go into effect until January and would be triggered only if the state reached Christie's ambitious revenue projections. Democrats offered additional tax cuts, too, such as a $50 million increase in the earned-income tax credit for the working poor.

The Democratic budget actually came in slightly lower than Christie's. But some Democrats weren't too supportive of their own measure, citing the hundreds of millions of dollars in borrowing and the reliance on one-time revenue sources.

"To suggest that this budget is fiscally prudent is something that some of us have difficulty saying," said Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D., Passaic).

After the Legislature adjourned Thursday and after Christie's top songs had been tweeted, the governor reacted with hostility to the Democrats' budget plan. He dubbed legislators "Corzine Democrats" - in reference to his unpopular predecessor - and Republican legislators Friday repeatedly parroted the phrase.

At a town hall meeting Friday afternoon, Christie targeted Democrats' approval Thursday and Friday of an increase on a tax on millionaires - which Christie has vetoed twice before and will likely do again. The tax would be designated for middle-class and senior citizen property-tax rebates.

Democrats issued no statements in response. They had more immediate concerns - such as the Cryan Nine.

By Friday afternoon, the coalition had crumbled, with two members dropping out. Those were the remaining votes the Democratic leadership needed to pass its budget.

In an interview before the coalition broke apart, Cryan said he expected leaders from the Democratic establishment to try to bring his colleagues back into the fold.

And that's exactly what happened. The Star-Ledger reported it didn't take much, just the threat of the cancellation of a $10 million bridge repair project in their district in Bergen County.

For their part, the two former Cryan Nine Democrats released a statement saying they flipped their position because of a change in the higher education bill, not transactional politics. Specifically, they cited a four-day-old amendment that postpones the higher education plan until 2013.

As for Cryan, he said his decision to go rogue had nothing to do with the politics behind his ouster as Assembly majority leader last year. He just thinks legislators need to slow down.

"This is about principle," he said.

"To me, the leverage is in the vote [on the budget]. The budget is the most important vote you make every year as a legislator. And this [higher education] vote rises to that level of importance."

On Monday, the Assembly budget committee will vote on the higher education bill - which has Rutgers taking over most of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey while Rutgers-Camden joins with Rowan University. The full Senate also is expected to take up the measure.

Also Monday, Democrats will try to send Christie their budget. The governor is facing both his self-imposed July 1 deadline for the higher education plan and a July 1 constitutional deadline for a balanced budget.

Christie can sign their budget, line-item certain items (such as the millions in social programs for the poor and needy that Democrats added), veto it outright. Or he may issue a "conditional veto," which would require Democrats to approve his changes or face a government shutdown, a risky political move for all involved.

But there's another factor at play: Spouses.

Every year at this time, as the budget fight intensifies, students finish school. July Fourth is around the corner. And legislators say those holding off from moving the budget get calls from family down the Shore: "Where are you?"

And that's when hundreds of bills, like the biggest reorganization of universities in a half-century, get moved through rapidly.

"So much waits till the end to get done," said Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D., Burlington), a rookie Budget Committee member.

Republican Sen. Jennifer Beck, in her first year on the Budget Committee, said: "The process is interesting, to say the least."

As for that Springsteen list, Christie's No. 1 is the iconic "Thunder Road."

He posted that on Twitter just as Democrats tried to move their chess pieces against a guy they're convinced cares mostly about leaving Trenton to become president or vice president.

"It's a town full of losers," Springsteen sings. "And I'm pulling out of here to win."


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

 

Philadelphia Inquirer - Christie, veto pen await Democrats' $32B budget

TRENTON, N.J. - Republican Gov. Chris Christie has already uncapped his red veto pen for the $32 billion budget the Democrats are expected to send him Monday.

The Democrats' budget adheres closely to Christie's own spending plan with one key difference: They want to deny him a tax cut unless the state's fiscal picture improves, and he wants it guaranteed.

Christie all but promised to red-line Democrats' spending priorities out of the budget unless he gets their commitment that the tax cut phase-in will begin in January. The $130 million in spending the Democrats have added , money to increase a tax cut to the working poor and funds to restore a cut to family planning centers , are sure to be vetoed.

A similar outcome occurred last year. The Democrats crafted their own budget, which was approved in a party line vote. Christie gutted the document, slicing nearly $1 billion, much of it in Democrat-cherished programs, before signing the budget into law.

Democrats maintain that the governor is overstating how much revenue the state will take in to justify giving residents a 10 percent tax break over three years. But Christie argues that the Democrats find money for the things they want to spend it on while denying overtaxed residents modest relief.

Christie's budget relies on tax collections growing by more than 7 percent over the next year, the most optimistic projection of any state in the country. Several economists have joined Democrats in questioning the projection, which the governor gets to certify. Democrats accepted Christie's numbers as the basis for their own version of the budget while continuing to question their accuracy.

Sen. Kevin O'Toole, a Republican who sits on the Budget Committee, noted the irony of the Democrats trying to play both sides in the budget debate.

The Assembly and Senate take votes on the budget Monday. It's then up to Christie, who can send the budget back to Democrats with a conditional veto or can veto whatever line items he chooses before signing the budget into law. A new budget must be in place by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

The Democrat-led budget panels in both houses advanced the bill in party line votes. The Republicans, who voted no in lockstep with the governor, echoed their dismay at deferring the tax cut.

The Democrats' budget sets aside $183 million to fund the first phase of the cut but sets the money aside with the promise of legislation enabling the cut if the governor is hitting his revenue targets midway through the fiscal year.

Christie told a town hall audience Friday, after the budget bill had cleared legislative committees, that in January "there will be the next excuse."

"They think they're leaving on June 30," he said. "But every day they spend on vacation, I'm going to remind all of you that they have your money and they won't give it to you."

The Legislature will be sending to the governor related spending bills, all of which he either has vetoed previously or has vowed to veto.

One bill raises the income tax rate on millionaires and uses the additional $789 million in revenue to fund a property tax rebate program for low-income households, the disabled and the elderly. Another restores $7 million to women's health care centers. A third returns $66 million in energy taxes to towns; the state has been diverting the money to help balance the budget.

The Record - Budget and tax breaks up for vote, Christie ready with veto… “Votes are also coming on other major issues, including teacher tenure reform and decriminalizing marijuana…”

Governor Christie pitched two major proposals in January. Both are supposed to be voted on today, and both are not exactly what he asked for.

Christie’s 10 percent tax cut doesn’t get its start in the $31.7 billion budget up for a vote in the Senate today. Democrats have parked roughly the same amount of money Christie’s tax cut would have cost this year into the budget and marked it tax relief. But it would be an income tax credit based on what a person pays in property taxes and it won’t be issued unless the budget meets the bold economic predictions Christie says will come in the next year. Christie has promised line item vetoes of what the Senate and Assembly are expected to vote on today, most notably a plan to raise taxes on the highest earners as one way to pay for any tax relief.

And the Assembly Budget Committee plans a vote on the governor’s higher education overhaul. The plan to merge parts of Rutgers and Rowan universities while dissolving the University of Medicine and Dentistry got tangled up in last week’s budget negotiations. Reluctant Assembly members say they are on board. A full vote in the Senate is also on the agenda today. Christie wanted the merger proposal done by the end of the month. It looks like the bill to do that will have its votes, but the measure gives the state one year to actually start work on the plan, a change added in the last weeks.

Votes are also coming on other major issues, including teacher tenure reform and decriminalizing marijuana. Check back here and on Northjersey.com for updates later today.

 


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
609-394-2828



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