Christie Releases Budget, Returns Focus to New Jersey

by | February 17, 2016 AT 11:01 AM

By Andrew Seidman

Gov. Christie, making his first public appearance since dropping out of the GOP presidential race last week, returned to the Statehouse on Tuesday and proposed a $34.8 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

That's up by $1 billion from the budget he signed into law in June and includes no new tax increases or cuts, according to the governor.

In his annual budget address to the Democratic-controlled Legislature, Christie called on lawmakers to eschew partisan politics for the remainder of his term and "bring relief to our overburdened taxpayers."

"I am standing here to tell you I am willing to continue to fix the remaining problems," Christie said, standing on a podium in front of Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D., Hudson) in the Assembly chambers.

"Let's take the next steps to insure our future. Let's lower taxes to stop people leaving New Jersey," Christie said. "Let's build infrastructure in a way that is fair to our taxpayers. Let's fix our pension and health benefit system in a way that will not divide our people and burden our taxpayers but will bring closer together the real world and the excesses of the government world."

The projected increase in spending for fiscal year 2017 is driven almost entirely by debt service and the growing costs of pensions and health benefits for public employees, Christie said.

He proposed $1.9 billion for the pension system for the next fiscal year. Democrats welcomed that idea.

"Guess what we've been saying now for the last couple months? You can make the pension payments without raising taxes," Sweeney told reporters.

Christie attacked Democratic plans to pass constitutional amendments that would require the state to contribute more money to the pension system for public workers and nearly double the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

"I am ready to work with you if you are willing to stop the partisanship and the reckless amending of our constitution just to score political points," Christie said. "We can sit and reason together for the next 630 days [of Christie's term], or we can fight for the next 630 days, and we will leave our citizens devoid of hope. That's not my preference."

(c)2016 The Philadelphia Inquirer