By Hilary Russ
Feb 26 (Reuters) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie presented a no-frills $32.9 billion state budget on Tuesday aimed at recovery, after his calls for an income tax cut last year fell victim to Democratic opposition, slow economic growth and Superstorm Sandy.
Christie, a Republican who is up for re-election this year and more popular with state voters than any other New Jersey governor in nearly 20 years, shied away from the kind of bold new initiatives he has previously proposed.
Instead, his fiscal 2014 budget would make a $1.68 billion payment to the state's public pension system - a near $650 million increase over this year's payment and the biggest in the state's history, he said.
This fiscal year, the state's more than $1 billion pension contribution was double what it had been the year before, but still only a third of New Jersey's actuarially required amount.
Christie also begrudgingly said he would expand the state's healthcare coverage for the poor, joining other Republican governors who have recently opted in favor of the measure under U.S. President Barack Obama's federal healthcare reform - even as they decried the new law.
By expanding Medicaid, the state would save about $277 million in fiscal 2014 alone, Christie's budget officials said in a briefing with reporters.
Christie's budget blueprint also has to deal with a projected $407 million shortfall for the end of fiscal 2013, which would be closed largely by pushing off nearly $400 million of homestead tax rebates to fiscal 2014.