TRENTON – New Jersey is facing money problems on multiple fronts. Gov. Chris Christie estimates the state budget deficit at $11 billion next year, on top of a $1 billion hole in the current budget. The state Transportation Trust Fund will be broke in less than 18 months, and the state’s Unemployment Insurance Fund will be $1.6 billion in the red by March, according to Christie.
No one is sure how the state will solve its fiscal woes, but Christie ruled out adding new highway tolls as a possible solution. He also said that he would not increase existing tolls or the state’s gasoline tax. “When people are struggling—that is not the time to raise taxes and fees,” the governor said.
The governor’s transition team on transportation had suggested that he consider adding tolls on some roads to pay for upkeep. It also suggested putting a gas tax hike up for public vote.
According to a recent Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll, 54 percent of New Jersey residents express some confidence that Christie will be able bring state spending under control, but 43 percent believe that whatever cuts are coming will hurt their own family budgets.
Christie’s immediate problem is how to deal with the gap in New Jersey’s current year budget. The governor is expected to announce proposals for dealing with it by the end of the week.
The $11 billion deficit projection for next year’s budget reflects the cost of fully paying the state’s pension contribution and funding the property tax rebate program the way it was intended. New Jersey has fallen short of those goals even in better economic times.
Last week, Christie warned businesses that their unemployment tax rate will increase in July because of a statutory requirement triggered if the Unemployment Insurance Fund falls below a certain level. The governor has asked the federal government for assistance, which could reduce the amount of the tax hike but is not likely to eliminate it completely.
On Tuesday, state lawmakers held a bipartisan public hearing in Trenton to allow residents to share their ideas on fixing and improving New Jersey. More than 120 people signed up in advance to speak.
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