Christie’s Budget Strategies Questioned

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie likes to portray himself as a fiscal conservative, but reporting by Kate Zernike in The New York Times (Oct. 30) questions this assessment, including Christie’s record on transportation issues.  In his election 4 years ago, Christie attacked his opponent, incumbent Jon Corzine, for using fiscal gimmicks to balance the budget.  However, according to Zernike’s article, Christie has used much the same tactics, including diverting money from such things as property-tax rebates, affordable housing, and funds for new energy sources to balance the budget instead.

On transportation, Christie made headlines when he cancelled a new rail tunnel under the Hudson, calling it a cost run-away; but he has issued more debt for transportation projects than any of his predecessors.  Meanwhile, New Jersey’s bond rating has sunk to one of the worst in the country, and the state’s own budget surplus has shrunk to its lowest percentage in a decade, in economic conditions in which state budget surpluses nationwide are growing.  The state’s transportation fund was depleted when Christie took office; he rejected calls to raise the state’s gasoline tax and instead asked the lame-duck Corzine administration to issue debt to replenish the fund.  When that tactic ran out of funds, he replenished the fund again with money that had been intended to build the trans-Hudson rail tunnel: $4 billion in bonds were issued, but to avoid future borrowing, Christie said he intended to increase the state’s contribution to the transportation fund.  Instead, he took the turnpike tolls intended for the transportation fund in 2013 and used them to help fill the gap in the state’s general budget, hit hard by less-than-anticipated revenue.

Christie intends to continue the policy of diverting the turnpike tolls to the general budget in 2014.  Hope, however, springs eternal: the state is now relying on online gambling, beginning in November, to bring in $180 million to help balance the budget.  However, the Office of Legislative Services says that it has been “unable to identify any independent source” to confirm such an estimate.

The complete article can be found at (limited access)