Republican Gov. Chris Christie will unveil his final budget as governor Tuesday as he takes criticism from his own party and Democrats in the race to succeed him after two terms.
It also comes as some of the state’s biggest financial problems persist, including the underfunded pension and education spending below required levels.
The budget gives the governor an opportunity to help shape his legacy, which has been under assault by Democratic candidates trying to succeed him who have called for higher spending on pensions and education. Leading candidate Phil Murphy has been particularly tough on Christie, saying his policies have failed.
But while many Republicans view Christie as a bulwark against Democratic proposals to increase taxes, the governor also is being attacked by his own party, with Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno promising to “audit” the state government she’s been part of for seven years, and scrap the governor’s planned statehouse restoration.
Christie has said he intends to dedicate about $2.5 billion to the public pension, up from $1.9 billion in the current fiscal year.
But while Christie regularly touts he has spent more on the pension than his predecessors, the system still carries tens of billions in unfunded liabilities, and the governor reneged on a 2014 plan to make higher payments because of unmet revenues.
The state also carries a nearly $1 billion shortfall for education spending, which is mandated by law and has gone unmet in Christie’s budgets.
He has called for revamping the formula, which would distribute state aid equally on a per-pupil basis, but it’s not clear if Christie will seek to have that fight with this budget. “Stay tuned,” he said during his regular radio call-in show this month.
Christie also has pledged to focus his final year on fighting the opioid epidemic, which killed about 1,600 people in New Jersey in 2015, so it’s possible to see an increase in spending on the crisis.
Christie came into office a year after Democrat Barack Obama won the White House and during the recession when New Jersey’s unemployment rate hovered around 10 percent.
His first budget was nearly $30 billion, which over time grew as the economy bounced back and the unemployment rate dipped to 4.7 percent in December 2016.
Christie, who has record low approval ratings, signed a nearly $35 billion 2017 budget and will hand over the 2018 budget to the first governor elected in the Donald Trump era.