New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has offered a $32.9 billion state budget aimed at helping the state recover from the destructive force of Sandy while holding the line on spending.
In an address Tuesday before the state Legislature, Christie also said New Jersey will join a growing list of states expanding Medicaid to more low-income people as part of the federal health insurance overhaul.
Participating in Medicaid expansion will give a greater number of New Jerseyans near the poverty line access to critical health services, he said.
“Expanding Medicaid by 104,000 citizens is the smart thing to do for our fiscal and public health,” he said. “Now if that ever changes because of adverse actions by the Obama Administration or broken promises, I will end it as quickly as I started it.”
The budget plan boosts school aid by almost $100 million and calls for a pilot program to give scholarship to 200 needy students in underperforming districts so they can attend classes elsewhere.
Overall, Christie says, his budget proposal is a blueprint for how to move forward.
“It holds the line on spending while funding the most important priorities like education for our kids and our reformed pension plan,” he said. “It encourages growth with tax reductions and helps us rebuild from Sandy. It continues those things that will hold down property taxes.”
The governor is proposing a $40 million Sandy contingency fund for expenses not reimbursed by the federal government.
“This is will allow us to get back on track with our small business agenda, get them back on their feet without delay. It will also allow us to continue to make progress restoring key roads and infrastructure regardless of federal timelines,” he said. “It will help us rebuild the Shore.”
Mixed reaction from Democrats
Democrats who control the New Jersey Legislature say they’re pleased Christie’s budget plan increases education aid and that he’s agreed the state will participate in an expansion of Medicaid to give more low-income residents access to health care.
But Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Vinnie Prieto says the Democrats are disappointed the administration is delaying Homestead Benefits by three months until August.
“We shouldn’t be doing it on the back of the people that are most vulnerable and pushing off until next year what you have to do this year,” said Prieto, D-Hudson. “Maybe if we would have had early-on hearings, we could have figured out how to not work with a gimmick and push it off until next year.”
The Democrats also criticized Christie for failing to mention the state’s high unemployment rate during his budget address and not saying more about reducing property taxes.
It will be up to the Democratic-led Legislature to review the budget plan and negotiate a compromise with the administration before the new fiscal year begins.