New Jersey Budget Crisis

New Jersey governments are awash in red ink. But from State Street to town hall, no one is tackling the biggest reason for our fiscal woes – what we pay public employees.  RUNAWAY PAY

Cutting spending in N.J.

President Obama could learn a lot about fiscal responsibility from New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie. The governor is making hard choices to close a $2.2 billion state budget deficit by freezing spending and erasing surpluses to meet current needs.

Mr. Christie is cutting money for schools, colleges, hospitals and the New Jersey Transit system - 375 line items total. He is removing noncitizens from the state health care system and canceling a jobs program that mainly created jobs for government bureaucrats. His cuts are intended to impose efficiency and accountability on government spending, concepts people generally do not associate with New Jersey politics.

Corzine should run . . . for the hills

I'm not a gambling man, but I make exceptions for politics. I mull things over for a while and at a certain point I come to a conclusion on which I am willing to bet a six-pack of beer.

And I am now willing to bet a six-pack that Jon Corzine will not run for re-election as governor of New Jersey. Unlike me, our governor is a gambling man, a damn good one. He made a fortune in the gaming houses of Lower Manhattan. And he knows enough to quit when he's ahead.

Canceling bond deals to cost state millions

[New Jersey] Taxpayers are scheduled to pay a New York investment bank $12 million this week to back out of an ill-fated deal that was supposed to lock in low interest rates on state bonds for 20 years.

The fee to Merrill Lynch comes on top of the tens of millions of dollars already paid out by state agencies, hospitals and colleges since the once-placid market for bonds called auction-rate securities collapsed amid investor skittishness in February. 

It would cost the state $513 million to cancel all 33 swaps in the state's portfolio ahead of schedule, according to the state's latest accounting through March 31.

Corzine's long-overdue education

When you begin your political education by purchasing a seat in the U.S. Senate, there are certain things you miss out on. Like everything.

When you begin your political education by purchasing a seat in the U.S. Senate, there are certain things you miss out on.

Like everything.

By going straight from the boardroom to the Beltway, Jon Corzine insulated himself from learning the most basic lessons of practical politics. If Corzine had been better schooled in the political arts and sciences, that budget speech he gave yesterday would have come before his proposal to borrow $38 billion against future toll revenues, not after.

Here's how it's supposed to work: First you announce a financial crisis so dire that no one can figure a way out of it. Then you travel the state telling the people of the disaster that awaits them. And only then, when all of the news stories have been written and all of the interest groups have started to bombard the politicians with phone calls and e-mail, do you propose your solution.

How N.J. got $30B in the hole

Any way you count it, New Jersey is deep in debt.

The state owes nearly $30 billion to its creditors and just paying the cost to cover that debt is eating up more than $2.5 billion a year.

That means less and less money each year for aid to public schools, hospitals, towns. And – directly or indirectly – it means higher taxes.

The situation is so bad that Governor Corzine is preparing to sell off state properties – everything from the lottery to the New Jersey Turnpike – to raise money.

"We are the guys who got stuck at the end of the game of musical chairs. We're trying to find a way to dig out of the hole we're in," state Treasurer Bradley Abelow said.

Here's a look at how the state got this far in debt, what it means and what some say New Jersey should do to steady its financial future:

Just how much does the state owe?

NJ Senate tries again to push key property tax reforms

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Most New Jersey home owners may inch closer Thursday to getting a 20 percent property tax cut, but that inching may not come easy.

The Senate is slated to meet to consider two property tax reform measures, including creating a fiscal watchdog demanded by Gov. Jon S. Corzine if he's to approve the tax cut meant to help 95 percent of state homeowners pay the nation's highest property taxes.

The Senate tried Monday to approve the post, but with Republicans and Democratic Sen. Barbara Buono opposing the bill, and with Democratic Sen. Nicholas Scutari absent, Senate President Richard J. Codey couldn't get the 21 votes needed to pass it.

Democrats say Corzine turnabout threatens reform. Codey, Roberts insist lawmakers felt duped

Gov. Jon Corzine's abrupt refusal to support legislation trimming public employee benefits makes it less likely the Legislature can muster the votes to adopt other controversial measures aimed at reining in property taxes, top lawmakers said yesterday.

"It certainly makes the climate a lot harder," Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex) said during a joint appearance with Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) before The Star-Ledger editorial board yesterday. "Some attitudes and opinions have changed."

N.J. debt grew by $4.1 billion over last year. Loan payments will affect state budget for years to come

  • $37.5 BILLION: New Jersey's debt, according to a state report.
  • $4,300: The amount of state debt per resident.
  • $11 BILLION: The amount of borrowing lawmakers have approved.

New Jersey's debt grew by $4.1 billion over the past year, locking in loan payments that will consume chunks of the state budget for years to come.

The state's total debt climbed to nearly $30 billion, according to a state report submitted Friday to the Commission on Capital Budgeting and Planning. That figure doesn't include billions of dollars more in debts for bonds tied to a settlement with tobacco companies and unfunded pension and health care costs.

On taxing and spending

The following exchange between former New Jersey Govs. Brendan T. Byrne and Tom Kean took place in a teleconference on Wednesday.

Q: One suggestion put forth by the governor's appointed legislative committees considering ways to lower property taxes was to put schools under county-wide juris diction. Would condensing more than 600 districts into 21, which proponents say would result in enormous savings, have a prayer of becoming a reality?

BYRNE: Once you put a school district that has a positive image with one that has negative image, you're going to get resistance -- and, frankly, that kind of resistance is worth worrying about.

Privatizing the Turnpike?

Until Gov. Jon Corzine raised the subject, talk in New Jersey of selling off or leasing the turnpike and some of the state’s other assets was not going anywhere. After all, the state’s privatization of its auto inspection system and its early experience with E-ZPass were hardly smashing successes. But Mr. Corzine, with his background in the business world, gave the idea immediate credibility.

At the Corzine administration’s behest, a financial services company is studying the situation and is expected to make recommendations next month. A State Treasury spokesman, Thomas Vincz, said last week that just about everything is on the table, including the sale, partial sale and management of numerous highways in addition to the turnpike and of other state assets as well.

Democrats and Corzine split over local taxes

Less than a month before the Nov. 15 deadline for lawmakers to propose ways to lower property taxes, legislative leaders are already at odds with Gov. Jon Corzine over one big question: whether municipalities should be allowed to impose other taxes.

Corzine has proposed giving municipalities an alternative to the much-hated property tax in July, and he reiterated it last week. He supports letting towns tack a 1 percent local sales tax onto the 7 percent that goes to the state.

The fattest pensions for public workers Lawmakers start focusing on multiple job-holders

For lawyer Damian Murray, the road to a comfortable, taxpayer-supported retirement runs through Lacey Township. And Dover Township. And Seaside Heights. And five other Ocean County communities.

Murray, a former county freeholder, serves as a municipal court judge in those towns, and they will pay him a combined $287,000 for his services this year, according to figures prepared for a legislative panel by the state Division of Pensions and Benefits.

NJ Business Facts

According to New Jersey Business (July 2006), the state is ranked 44th out of 50 states in increasing its Gross Domestic State Product during 1st quarter 2006.  It seems that only West Virginia and the Great Lakes states (downturn in autos) performed worse.

Job growth over the past two yeats has been in the low paying retail and hospitality categories—with the loss of 125,000 high paying jobs.

Governor open to idea of municipal sales taxes

Gov. Jon Corzine said yesterday he may support allowing municipalities to impose their own sales taxes to help control property taxes.