New numbers put Christie on defense

Gov. Christie addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012. (AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite)

Gov. Christie dismissed new tax revenue numbers that Democrats say dampen his claim that a “Jersey comeback” is under way.

The nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services sent a memo today to legislators about tax revenue for the 2012 fiscal year, which ended in June. It said that revenue collections were $253.9 million short of the governor’s projections, potentially affecting this year’s budget and the surplus that Christie has set aside for a tax cut.

Christie, who often derides the OLS as “partisan” and a “handmaiden” of the legislature’s Democratic majority, noted that a different OLS memo last month had estimated the administration’s revenue projections could be off as much as $542 million -- more than twice as high as the new figures.

“That’s why all of this stuff is blatantly political,” Christie said today at a news conference in the Haddonfield Memorial High School library.

Christie noted that five sources of revenue for the last fiscal year have yet to be accounted for, and final numbers won’t be known until December or January.

Nonetheless Democrats wasted no time slamming the governor for the new numbers, and noted that Christie already had budgeted for 7.3 percent growth in revenue for the fiscal year that began in July. To make up for the kind of shortfall that OLS predicted, revenue would have to go up even further.

“These numbers, when combined with slow economic growth and high unemployment, unfortunately continue a disconcerting trend for New Jersey under Gov. Christie,” Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D., Hudson/Bergen), chairman of the budget committee, said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, we have yet to see any signs of such a so-called ‘comeback,’ despite the constant spin that budget shortfalls have been tackled.”

Prieto said he is planning hearings to address the issue.

Christie also spoke Monday to other numbers that are of particular concern in South Jersey.

Camden County is rapidly moving toward the creation of a regional police force, which would have its first patrol division in the city of Camden, effectively replacing the city police department.

The county, however, has yet to release firm figures details about how much the new force would cost and how it would be funded.

Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd has said she is confident that the state will provide enough aid for the city to sustain the department going forward.

Christie agreed — to a point.

He said a portion of the transitional aid that the state gives the city would be used toward the new department, just as that money helps fund the current city force. (The city gets about 70 percent of its budget from the state.)

But, he said, “we have to look at how it winds up being set up,” noting that he is awaiting final figures from the county on costs.

And, he said, “transitional aid” is meant to only be “transitional,” so funding won’t be there in perpetuity. The final goal is to figure out “how we can lower the amount of state aid that goes into Camden.”

“I’ve encouraged this to happen,” he said of the county force. “I think it should be the wave of the future in places that are challenged like this.”

As Christie spoke to reporters, a group of students from Haddonfield Memorial’s AP government class sat behind him. Earlier in the afternoon the governor fielded questions from students.

He said he chose to visit this high school because it is one of the highest performing in the state, and because it implemented a teacher evaluation pilot program. That program is to form the basis of a new tenure law, recently signed by Christie, that considers teacher performance when determining tenure.

One student, Gabrielle Fabbri, a 17-year-old senior, keeps up with Christie in the news and said it was incredibly “cool” to see the governor in action.

She has even followed along with the somewhat esoteric debate over OLS numbers — and she’s siding with Christie.

“He’s really, really honest,” she said. “We should just let the governor say the numbers and not spit out numbers to make a point.”