Governor Corzine signed a $33.5 billion budget Thursday, trimming just over $10 million in legislative requests, and then turned his attention resolutely toward the fiscal future.
The budget calls for no new taxes or fees for the first time since 2001 and features a $2.2 billion property tax rebate program, to be paid for with last year’s sales tax increase.
“It affirms our commitment to provide substantial property tax relief in the context of sound fiscal principles, spends only what we can pay for, provides new efficiencies and savings, eschews the tricks and gimmicks of budgets past, and upholds our commitments to the most vulnerable in our state and society,” Corzine said.
Corzine thanked lawmakers for allowing him to sign the earliest budget in recent history. And he joked that he didn’t miss the cot he slept on during the protracted budget debate last year that resulted in a weeklong state government shutdown. The state constitution requires the budget to be signed by midnight on June 30 – a deadline that was broken last year.
Democratic lawmakers lauded the budget, pointing again and again to the property tax relief it offers.
“This budget will give residents record amounts of property tax relief and the clearest picture ever of how their money is being spent to support state services,” said Sen. Bernard F. Kenny Jr. of Hoboken.
New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the nation, averaging $6,330. In North Jersey, homeowners earning less than $100,000 a year can expect checks averaging $1,080. Those earning up to $250,000 are expected to receive checks for up to 15 percent of the first $10,000 of their property tax bills. Seniors will receive checks for 20 percent or $1,200, whichever is greater. Renters will also receive higher credits than before.
But Republicans called the budget an example of reckless spending and misplaced priorities.Republicans said Democrats have increased state spending by nearly 50 percent since 2002 and tripled the state debt. They pointed out that the budget does not include a new funding formula for schools, a long-promised element of property tax reform.
“We had an opportunity this year to really rein in this wasteful spending and to restore some fiscal sanity to this budget, but instead this will make matters worse,” said Assemblyman Joseph Malone, R-Burlington. “This budget is short on property tax relief, short on school funding and short on any realization that the bill for this excessive spending spree of the past six years will soon come due.”
Corzine exercised his line-item veto to trim 66 items from the budget, totaling just over $10 million. Many of the items were not considered statewide or regional in scope; others were considered areas that could receive funding through other avenues.
Legislative additions to the budget — particularly local pork benefiting a particular district – fell under unprecedented scrutiny this year, in light of the ongoing federal investigation into lawmakers who may have personally benefited from institutions to which they directed public funding.