Governor Chris Christie called a New Jersey Senate Democrat an “arrogant S.O.B.” over the failure to guarantee a tax cut in the Legislature’s $31.7 billion spending plan, without saying whether he’ll veto it.
Christie’s comment referred to Senator Paul Sarlo, who heads the budget panel. The Republican said he “got fooled” in swapping his income-levy rollback for property-tax rebates, citing a six-month delay and conditions set by lawmakers.
The budget that passed the Democratic-controlled Legislature without a single Republican vote would set aside money for the rebates while making the payments conditional on revenue reaching targets set in Christie’s spending proposal. State receipts for the fiscal year that begins next week have been projected to fall short by as much as $1.3 billion.
“If you’ve been good according to Paul Sarlo, maybe you can have your tax cut,” Christie, 49, told a crowd of about 750 at a town-hall meeting in Brick Township yesterday. “But I wouldn’t count on it.”
Having the governor call you names has become a “badge of honor,” Sarlo, of Wood-Ridge, said in a statement after the Brick meeting. “I will not resort to name-calling.”
“The governor’s words show that we’re winning the argument of fiscal responsibility,” Sarlo said. The Democrats’ plan would set aside $183 million for tax relief, while withholding it until revenue collections are deemed adequate, he said.
Christie, in his first term, had prodded lawmakers to spend the $183 million on the first phase of his 10 percent income-tax cut in fiscal 2013. In Brick, he said Democrats “lied to you, they lied to me and I’m going to kick their rear ends all over the state this summer” over the dispute.
“I’ll be as nice as I can be until you stick it to me,” he said.
The Democrats’ budget is “larded up” with add-on spending, Christie said today at a town-hall meeting in Mahwah. Democrats show “no intention of giving you tax relief,” he said, and offered to bet a member of the audience every dollar in their pocket that lawmakers wouldn’t give the tax credits.
“You can’t trust Paul Sarlo,” Christie said.
Christie, who faces re-election in 2013, is more likely to remove individual spending items added by Democrats before signing the budget, rather than vetoing it outright, said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University in Lawrenceville.
Using a so-called line-item veto would let the governor put the plan in place before a July 1 deadline and keep state operations from closing, Dworkin said.
“Shutting down the government is always a risky proposition,” Dworkin said by telephone. “He can cut the amount of money he needs for the first year of his income-tax cut and then go around the state telling everyone that the money is there, it’s Democrats who haven’t decided to give it back to you.”
The budget proposed by Christie in February projected a 7.3 percent revenue gain, the most since before the last recession began in December 2007. The growth would let the state raise spending while reducing income taxes by 10 percent over three years, under Christie’s proposal.
State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff, a Christie appointee, has since said revenue through June 2013 may be $700 million less than Christie’s target, while the Legislature’s chief budget analyst has said the gap may be almost twice that.
Christie accused Democrats of holding “tax relief hostage” in their budget, in a statement released after it passed. He didn’t say what he’d do with the plan.
“It’s unrealistic for anyone to expect a government shutdown in New Jersey,” Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, a Westfield Republican, said by telephone. “The governor’s going to be true to his word. He’s going to take the red pen out and he’s going to make reductions to the Democrats’ budget.”
Last year, Christie cut almost $1 billion in funding for schools, police and tax credits for the working poor. Lawmakers failed to garner enough votes to override his changes.
Democrats control the Assembly, 48-32, and the Senate, 24-16, short of the two-third majority needed to reverse a veto.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat from West Deptford, said he doesn’t expect such drastic cuts this year.
“No one expects him to agree with our budget, so I assume he’ll veto some of those things,” Sweeney said by telephone. “He’s got the biggest vote because he has to sign it.”
A shutdown might not be “such a bad option” for Christie because it would renew media attention on his fight for tax cuts, said Brigid Harrison, who teaches law and politics at Montclair State University. More probable is that Christie will strike specific provisions, she said.
“He has taken to the national stage in the past several weeks talking about his ability to govern in a bipartisan fashion,” Harrison said. “It would be difficult for him to then stand up and act unilaterally.”
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