A week after dropping out of the presidential race, Gov. Chris Christie proposed a $34.8 billion state budget and asked the Democrat-controlled legislature to work with him on major state issues.
The governor Tuesday reminded lawmakers the election for the state’s next governor is 630 days away.
“Are we going to waste those days on partisanship and politics?” he said. “Or will you work with me to use those 630 days to help bring relief to our overburdened taxpayers?
Senate President Steve Sweeney said Democrats in the legislature do want to work with Christie.
“We were all clapping a little bit, and I think that was really a sign of good faith in wishing and hoping that we can work together,” said Sweeney, D-Gloucester.
Christie’s budget plan calls for a $1.9 billion payment into New Jersey’s public worker pension system, but he said that will require reducing public employee and retirement health care costs by $250 million.
“Absent any reforms, get ready for this, state costs for government worker and retiree health insurance would increase by $487 million this year, and it’s a comparable rate moving forward if you lock in these benefits,” he said. “We simply cannot afford this.”
Senate Budget Committee chairman Paul Sarlo said the pension contribution sets the stage for hearings on the budget.
“I think that, off the get-go, it provides at least from the Budget Committee’s perspective a blueprint, a document, that we can begin to work off and hopefully negotiate a budget,” said Sarlo, D-Bergen. “None of us want to get into this back and forth where we don’t solve these problems.”
Democrats, however, expressed disappointment that the budget plan doesn’t include money for the nearly depleted Transportation Trust Fund that covers road and bridge repairs and maintenance.
The governor said he is ready to work with legislative leaders to reach an equitable agreement on the issue.
“I was ready to act last year, and Democrats in this chamber refused because of your midterm elections,” he said.
Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto disputed that claim, saying lawmakers wanted to reach a funding solution with the administration.
“He was actually running for another office, so that’s not accurate what he actually said,” Prieto said.
Christie is calling for tax fairness.
Legislative leaders say they’re willing to consider phasing out the estate tax but disagree whether it should be part of any agreement to raise the gas tax to replenish the Transportation Trust Fund.