Christie talks tax cut — but doesn't get one

Gov. Christie held a town hall meeting in Haddonfield's Central Middle School on June 12. He often uses these gatherings to assail Democrats. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)

When legislative Democrats sent Gov. Christie a tax increase on millionaires last week, everyone in Trenton knew he would reject it.

And when Christie ordered legislators back to the Statehouse for a special session today to vote on a tax cut, everyone in Trenton knew they wouldn’t vote on it.

Political theatrics took center-stage Monday as Christie used his constitutional powers to call legislators back from vacation and lecture them about the need for immediate tax relief. After he finished his remarks, Democrats held press conferences about how they want to wait a few months before deciding whether to cut taxes – state revenues so far indicate that they can’t yet afford it, they said.

And then they left the legislative chambers.

Nearly two hours later, Christie released the document he wanted them to vote on: A conditional veto of Democrats’ bill to raise taxes on millionaires, which Christie red-lined and turned into tax cut. The cut would apply to those with household incomes up to $400,000, giving them an income tax credit equal to 10 percent of their annual property taxes. He noted that the proposal was modeled on the one Senate Democrats had proposed earlier in the year.

Democrats dismissed Christie’s session as political grandstanding, saying that even under his own plan taxes wouldn’t be cut until next year, and would only provide $20 to the average family anyway. They also noted that Christie vetoed bills last week that would have provided tax relief to, for example, the working poor.

"The governor will move from 30-second sound bite to 30-second sound bite because he needs the media attention like you and I need oxygen," said Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald (D., Camden).

The day began at 1:17 p.m., when Senate President Stephen Sweeney introduced the governor. Moments later, Christie, trailed by TV cameras, entered the Assembly chambers to applause from both sides of the aisle. Christie shook hands with Republicans and Democrats, sharing a laugh with Greenwald himself.

Things got frostier real quick. In his remarks, which was interrupted several times by Republican standing ovations, Christie doubted Democratic arguments that tax revenues weren’t strong enough for the state to afford a tax cut.

“If my revenue projections were good enough for your spending, why are they not good enough for the people’s tax cut?” asked Christie. “This makes no sense to me and I can assure you it will make no sense to the taxpayers of New Jersey. You cannot have it both ways.”

The Democrats actually sent Christie a budget that was lower than the one had proposed. Christie line-item vetoed spending and then signed it. Among the items that he crossed out was an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor.

Monday's speech served as something of a victory lap for the end of the legislative session, with Christie saying that through compromise between legislative Democrats and a Republican governor, several legislative achievements were secured in the last few weeks -- including changes to teacher tenure and the overhaul of the state’s higher education system.

Christie said: “There is one greater thing left to do: lock in tax relief today to help create jobs tomorrow for the people of New Jersey.”

"It’s not about whether any of you win. It’s not about us. It’s not about polls or conventions or speeches or TV sound bites. It’s about the people of New Jersey. It’s about them winning. It’s about their families winning. It’s about the family paying the bills on time and saving every penny to make sure they can go away to the shore this summer.

"It’s about the young couple wanting to put down roots in the community and buy their first home. It’s about the single mom in Camden doing everything she can to make sure her kid goes to a good school. So I ask all of you today, what are we waiting for? What are we waiting for?"