Bloomberg News

Tax Vow May Trap Christie as N.J. Revenue Short

May 16, 2012

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

Governor Chris Christie, a Republican who has spent the past four months promising New Jersey income- tax cuts, now confronts the challenge of selling his plan’s feasibility against a backdrop of continuing revenue shortfalls.

April receipts fell 5.3 percent short of budget forecasts, after March collections missed by 2.5 percent, according to statements from Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff. So far for the fiscal year that ends in June, the state has brought in $230.3 million, or 1.2 percent, less than projected.

Christie, 49, didn’t remark on the latest figures during two public appearances in Atlantic City and Camden yesterday, when the April data was released. He will continue barnstorming the state with a public forum planned for today in East Hanover. He has regularly pitched the three-year, 10 percent tax cut at such meetings as a key to what he calls the “Jersey Comeback.”

“To back off now would smell of political weakness,” Brigid Harrison, who teaches law and politics at Montclair State University, said yesterday by telephone.

Christie’s $32.1 billion spending plan for fiscal 2013 counts on a 7.3 percent revenue gain, the most since before the recession that began in December 2007. Should revenue miss budgeted amounts for the current year, the state would start the next with less cash than estimated.

Trailing Revenue Estimates

New Jersey collected $3.26 billion last month, less than the $3.44 billion forecast. Income taxes trailed estimates by 2.8 percent and corporate levies fell 22 percent under budget, Sidamon-Eristoff said in a statement.

“This is one month’s worth of collections,” said Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Christie. “We still have two months.”

Sidamon-Eristoff is scheduled to testify before the Assembly Budget Committee on May 23, his spokesman, Andy Pratt, said by e-mail today.

So far in fiscal 2012, revenue is $500 million, or 2.7 percent, greater than for the first 10 months of the previous year, reflecting economic growth, Roberts said yesterday.

At today’s meeting in East Hanover, Christie will “continue his conversation” about issues including the across- the-board tax cut, according to a statement from the governor’s press office.

Christie is counting on a revenue gain to fund the rollback, and he has prodded Democrats, who control the Legislature, to pass it. Lawmakers have made counterproposals that would give middle-income residents property-tax credits on their tax returns.

‘Irresponsible’ Tax Rollback

“With revenue projections coming in much lower and the governor’s revenue estimates being ridiculously unreachable, it would be irresponsible at this time to support any type of tax cut,” Senator Raymond Lesniak, an Elizabeth Democrat, said by telephone yesterday, before the April numbers were released. “I know that other members I’ve spoken to agree.”

Gordon MacInnes, president of New Jersey Policy Perspective, a Trenton nonprofit research group that focuses on social and political issues, said this is no time to cut taxes.

“New Jersey already has the third-lowest credit rating in the country, greatly increasing our borrowing costs,” MacInnes, a former Democratic state senator and assemblyman from Morristown, said in a statement. “Our leaders should concentrate first on putting the state’s fiscal house in order, not on politically appealing, but reckless, proposals to cut taxes. This is exactly how we got into this mess.”

Christie has “very forcibly” outlined his plan, and Democrats have followed suit, said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch.

Cornered Politicians

“Politically, you can’t go back on a tax-cut promise,” Murray said by telephone. “We’re going to see, probably, a return to some of the one-shot gimmicks to fill budget holes.”

“This doesn’t look like the time that we should be giving out a tax cut for the state, but the governor has backed himself into a corner,” Murray said. “Everybody’s backed themselves into a corner.”

Christie’s spending plan for fiscal 2013 relies on “optimistic” economic projections, Standard & Poor’s analysts led by John Sugden in New York said in February.

Revenue for this fiscal year and next may trail Christie’s targets as taxes on income and casinos fall short, David Rosen, chief budget analyst for the Legislative Services Office, said in March. Revenue from gaming taxes trailed forecasts by 11 percent for the first 10 months of fiscal 2012.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a West Deptford Democrat, told reporters in Camden yesterday that the April revenue drop won’t derail talks with the governor on a tax-cut compromise.

Raised Expectations

Both parties have raised expectations, and it’s difficult to predict how they can deliver a balanced budget as well as tax relief, said David Redlawsk, who teaches politics at Rutgers University in New Brunswick and directs the school’s Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling.

“The one thing both sides have going for them is this is not an election year in New Jersey for state-level” positions, Redlawsk said by telephone. “It gives them a little bit of wiggle room.”

New Jersey isn’t the only state where revenue has missed forecasts.

In California, Governor Jerry Brown, 74, has said he overestimated tax receipts in the spending plan he released in January, contributing to a $6.5 billion increase in a projected deficit, to $15.7 billion. The Democrat has proposed spending cuts and shortening the workweek for state employees.

To contact the reporters on this story: Elise Young in Trenton, New Jersey, at eyoung30@bloomberg.net; Terrence Dopp in Trenton, New Jersey, at tdopp@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net


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