New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a critic of President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul, called for expanding Medicaid in his state as he proposed a $32.9 billion spending plan ahead of his re-election bid.
The budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 includes a $1.6 billion pension payment as it raises spending by 2.3 percent and delays property-tax rebates. Christie’s plan counts on revenue rising by 4.9 percent, a smaller increase than last year, when the Republican’s predictions for more than 8 percent growth were challenged by Democrats and Standard & Poor’s.
Christie joins at least seven other Republican governors who have agreed to expand Medicaid, the federal-state health program for the poor, after Florida’s Rick Scott said last week that he supports doing so. Five of the governors backing expansion — Scott, John Kasich of Ohio, Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Brian Sandoval of Nevada, and Rick Snyder of Michigan — will stand for re-election next year.
New Jersey and Virginia are the only two states with governor’s races this year. Christie, 50, is enjoying a record 74 percent approval rating, up from 56 percent before Hurricane Sandy struck, according to Quinnipiac University polls. He has approval from 56 percent of Democrats in a state where that party’s registered voters exceed Republicans by 703,000.
The governor praised Obama’s response to Sandy ahead of Election Day, angering some Republicans who blamed him for the Democratic incumbent’s win over Mitt Romney. In January, he attacked fellow Republicans in Congress for delaying a vote in the House of Representatives on disaster aid.
Christie, who spoke last year at the Conservative Political Action Conference’s Chicago-area conclave, wasn’t invited to the group’s 2013 Washington meeting because of his Obama praise and his criticism of House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, according to a person familiar with the lineup, who asked not to be identified and isn’t authorized to speak publicly about internal group decision-making.
The governor said Nov. 26 he will seek a second term to oversee the $36.9 billion job of rebuilding from Sandy. Democrats, who control the Legislature, have said Christie is using the storm to ignore concerns about joblessness and revenue. New Jersey’s unemployment rate was 9.6 percent in December, the fourth-highest in the nation.
In his budget address a year ago, Christie predicted that New Jersey’s comeback had begun and that it could afford a 10 percent income-tax cut. Democratic lawmakers refused to sign off on that proposal, saying the state couldn’t afford it.
S&P revised its outlook on New Jersey’s debt to negative from stable in September, citing Christie’s “optimistic” assumptions, an unfunded pension liability, and the use of one- time revenue to close shortfalls.
Christie’s reliance on one-time revenue drops to 3 percent in fiscal 2014, from 4 percent this fiscal year, and 13 percent in 2010, according to Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff.
The state will set aside an unspecified amount of money to protect programs in the event of a sequester, or automatic federal spending cuts set to take effect March 1, according to budget documents. New Jersey would lose more than $39 million, including $27.7 million for primary, secondary and special education, according to an Obama administration report.
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