Harry Hurley’s New Jersey Budget Address
Until Christie put it all in proper context, it probably went by unnoticed by most New Jerseyans. The financial reality in New Jersey is that 94% of all spending goes towards just 3 areas: pension benefits, healthcare for retired employees, and debt service. This means that just 6 percent remains to fund education, tax relief, public safety, higher education, drug rehabilitation, and health care. It's a disgrace, but, it's one that Christie has inherited.
Many New Jerseyans are not happy these days. But, it's important to note that four years ago, the state of New Jersey was almost bankrupt. The state's debt had increased tenfold over the past two decades. A staggering $70 billion of wealth had fled our state because of mismanagement, as well as the regressive and punitive taxation policies. The unemployment rate had doubled in the prior 4 years to Governor Chris Christie.
Governor Christie's budget calls for total spending of $34.5 billion, with a respectable remaining surplus of $300 million. When you take out pension, healthcare costs and debt service, the budget is actually $2.2 billion smaller then in 2008.
In four years, Christie has cut discretionary spending by $2.2 billion.
Christie is proposing to make a $ 2.25 billion dollar pension payment - the largest in New Jersey History and more than the 5 previous Governors combined did over the past 10 years. The $2.25 billion represents an increase of $670 million from last year. This will mean that Christie has made $5.3 billion in pension payments.
On the revenue side, we've seen a 20 percent increase from 2012 to 2015. But, more than 60 percent of this revenue is eaten up by the pension, healthcare, and debt service mess.
Because of Christie's fiscal restraints, New Jersey's unfunded pension liability has been reduced by 32 percent since 2011. But, without additional reforms, New Jersey taxpayers still owe a staggering $52 billion to fully fund the pension system. We remain on a collision course for insolvency if we don't continue to act and act now because our long-term debt obligations will increase substantially in future years.
The reality is that Governor Christie, with bi-partisan support of the New Jersey Legislature have merely bought us some more time... nothing is really fixed. And, we certainly don't want to be the next Detroit. This effects every facet of our lives. A sense of urgency must be the order of the day. Governor Christie has it. We all must have it.
Some will argue that Governor Christie hasn't done enough. I submit that the record says otherwise. Just imagine where we would be right now, if the former Governor Jon Corzine policies had continued over the past 4 years? New Jersey would have tipped toward actual ruination. This is a very big year for New Jersey. The past 4 years, with Governor Christie's leadership, have saved us from this fate, but, we're not out of the woods yet.