| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Feb 23 New Jersey Governor Chris
Christie will introduce his fifth budget on Tuesday under
political and economic clouds that could hamper support for any
new policy proposals.
The fiscal challenges were many even before Christie's
political troubles began. The state must make a $2.3 billion
payment to its underfunded pension system in fiscal 2015, and
revenues could fall short of projections by at least $400
million because of New Jersey's slow economic recovery.
Political pressures are likely to loom large, too, with
Christie and his administration facing allegations they use
bullying tactics and retribution to get their way.
Christie has vehemently denied advanced knowledge of lane
closures that led to four days of gridlock on a bridge to New
York in September.
The traffic jam was allegedly an act of political
retaliation against a Democratic New Jersey mayor, carried out
by Christie loyalists, and has dented Christie's standing in
national polls of likely Republican presidential contenders for
Just how the controversy affects his budget message remains
to be seen.
"There's only so much political oxygen. And Bridgegate takes
up so much of it that it might be difficult for him to breathe
anything other than that," said Matthew Hale, an associate
professor of public administration at Seton Hall University in
Despite the political distractions, or possibly because of
them, Christie could look to make a bold budget proposal to
burnish anew his reputation as a tough, populist fighter.
"It's a question of whether he wants to set up a fight to
change the conversation or just keep the noise level down and
ride out the," Hale said.
Christie doesn't have much economic room to maneuver,
however. Bi-partisan pension reform in 2011 set pension payments
to increase steadily until they hit about $4.8 billion in 2018.
The state is also on track to bring in at least $400 million
less in revenues than previously projected, though this fiscal
year doesn't end until June 30.
It also has the fourth-highest debt load among states by
more than one measure, according to Moody's Investors Service.
In 2013, the state's bonded debt obligations increased 4.1
percent to $40.4 billion, the steepest annual increase since
Christie took office and more than double the debt growth of the
Moody's dropped its outlook on New Jersey's Aa3 rating to
negative in December, citing the state's lower than expected
cash balances, growing pension burden and persistent structural
"We are now going into the third consecutive year where the
state revenue collections are underperforming expectations,"
said Moody's analyst Baye Larsen. "This is largely due to
economic performance and lagging economic recovery. But there is
a certain element of optimistic revenue assumptions included in
In January, Christie said during his State of the State
speech that he wanted to lengthen both the school day and the
school year for New Jersey students, and he hinted that more
pension reforms could be on the table. Both proposals could lead
to fights with public sector unions and lawmakers.
He also gave a nod to an issue that topped his agenda during
his first term, but that he hasn't yet achieved: broad tax cuts.
He said he'd announce specific ideas during his budget address.
Christie "may be under some significant pressure to show
he's truly a tax-cutting, real Republican," Hale said.
"Assuming he's still around in 2016, that's something he
would run on in New Hampshire and South Carolina and Iowa," he
said, referring to the initial proving grounds for presidential