TRENTON – Saying, “The sky ahead is limitless if we just have the courage to stay the course,” Gov. Chris Christie delivered his fourth budget address to the Legislature this afternoon.
The governor reluctantly agreed to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
“Let me be clear, refusing these federal dollars does not mean that they won’t be spent,” Christie said. “It just means that they will be used to expand health care access in New York, Connecticut, Ohio or somewhere else.”
The expanded Medicaid program will cover more people, including single adults who make up to 133% of the federal poverty level – less than $16,000 per year. The federal government will fully pay the costs for the first three years, before leveling to 90% of the costs in 2020.
Christie touted private sector job growth and bragged that there are 5,200 fewer state workers now than when he took office, but he did not talk about New Jersey’s 9.6 unemployment rate, which is higher than all of its neighbors.
Christie also proposed a $40 million Sandy contingency fund to cover costs that will not be reimbursed by the federal government. He called the shore “the heart of New Jersey” and said, “I expect to go the Jersey Shore every summer for the rest of my life, including this summer of 2013.”
As expected, Christie’s budget includes no state tax increases for the fourth straight year. The governor also bragged about presenting a balanced budget for the fourth straight year, even though every governor has been constitutionally required to so since 1947.
Christie brought up last year’s tax cut proposal and blasted the Legislature for failing to advance it. “I believe New Jerseyans are overtaxed….I have compromised and offered your plan for tax cuts. You have reneged on your promise to me and the people of New Jersey,” the governor said. “I will not shut down the budget process to continue this argument…But, if you change your mind and concur with my conditional veto, my Administration will figure out how to pay for this long overdue tax relief. If you do not, I am content to let the voters decide this in November.”
The governor took credit for state property taxes increasing by the smallest amount in 24 years, due to his 2% cap. “This year, I ask you to take action on my proposal to prevent towns and counties from imposing user fees to blow through the 2% Property Tax Cap,” Christie said. “Why not close this loophole? What are you waiting for?” He also challenged the Legislature to finish passing the remaining 14 bills in his property tax toolkit.
The proposed budget includes a $1.676 contribution to the state’s pension systems, in accordance with a 2011 agreement. Fitch Ratings had warned that New Jersey’s credit rating could be downgraded if Christie had decided to contribute less.
The governor’s proposed budget also includes a modest increase for education funding, amounting to approximately one percent of the total $9 billion in state school aid.