Gov. Chris Christie on Friday unceremoniously signed a $32.9-billion state spending plan that takes effect Monday, capping a legislative budget-making season devoid of the usual fireworks, but adds elements that could tag him a bipartisan leader whom the nation can rally around.
Christie, a Republican who is up for re-election this year, negotiated the budget with leaders of the Democrat-controlled state Legislature. The changes from his initial proposal amounted mostly to tinkering around the edges of a budget that largely maintains the status quo. It was the first time since 2010 that Christie and lawmakers negotiated a spending plan.
“It was pretty close to everything I wanted,” he said at a news conference this week.
Even though they struck the deal on it, Democratic lawmakers have lamented that it did not include money for preschools or women’s health clinics, or to restore a tax credit for the working poor that was reduced in 2010.
Democrats complain that Christie’s revenue expectations are too rosy but that they didn’t have much power to fight over them because the governor has the power to certify the projections.
Because Democrats agreed to negotiate the budget rather than pass their own version, Christie agreed not to use a line-item veto to eliminate parts of it he doesn’t like.
More than one-fourth of the budget — about $9 billion — goes to aid for the state’s public schools. This amount is the most ever, and enough that no district will see a reduction in its state allocation.
It also includes a legally obligated $1.7-billion payment into a pension fund for public workers — a record, but still less than half of what experts say the state should be contributing each year.
Christie did make some sacrifices, including agreeing not to include $2 million to fund a scholarship program that would use taxpayer money to send children in some struggling, low-income school districts to private schools.
He also did not get a tax cut he’s been pushing since last year. His plan would give a refundable income tax credit to households earning up to $400,000. The amount would be based on the size of their property tax bills.
He said he intends to make that a campaign issue this fall as he seeks re-election against state Sen. Barbara Buono, one of the Democrats who voted against the budget plan.