NJ budget signed, but spin goes on in 2 new ads - My9 New Jersey

NJ budget signed, but spin goes on in 2 new ads

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GEOFF MULVIHILL,Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie isn't making millionaires pay their "fair share" of taxes, and the state Legislature denied residents a tax cut.

Those are claims political adversaries have taken to radio airwaves in recent days, continuing a war of words over a state budget that's now in place for the fiscal year that started Sunday.

The ads get the facts right, but their claims contain plenty of spin: Some lack key context, and some rely on speculation about things that aren't particularly likely to happen.

But according to Ben Dworkin, a Rider University political scientist, it's not clear anyone is paying much attention.

It's summertime in a year when neither the governor nor lawmakers are up for election.

"These things only shape opinion in the immediate moment," Dworkin said. "I'm not sure how much of a longstanding impact these things will have."

Why run them, then?

Dworkin says the summertime political ads have become common since Christie, a Republican, took office in 2010 — and they are more likely to fire up partisans than to sway independent voters.

The pro-Christie ad, with Christie himself doing the talking, is funded by the New Jersey Republican State Committee.

In it, he boasts that it's the third straight year with a balanced budget and no new taxes, the spending plan is lower than the one five years ago and that the state is spending more on schools and programs for people with developmental disabilities and autism. That's all true, but Christie doesn't say that the state constitution requires every budget to be balanced.

And while the budgets Christie has signed have not contained new taxes, his spending plan from two years ago did reduce an earned-income tax credit for the working poor and a homestead rebate for some senior citizen and lower-income homeowners. Some consider those changes tax increases.

He also blasts the Democrat-controlled Legislature for proposing an $800 million tax increase, which he vetoed, and not supporting his plan to cut property taxes for many homeowners by 10 percent.

All of that is also true — but it's not the whole story.

The tax hike he vetoed has become an annual gambit for Democrats. They passed a tax that would raise income taxes on households earning more than $1 million per year and said the revenue would pay for tax cuts for most homeowners.

Christie is right that Democrats rejected the proposal for property tax cuts that he made Monday, two days after he signed the budget. His plan was to phase in tax credits based on property tax payments for households earning under $400,000 per year. The amounts would reach up to 10 percent of each homeowner's property tax bill in the fourth year of the program.

But Democrats did include $183 million in the state budget for property tax relief. While they haven't laid out the details of the cuts, the dollar amount is similar to the cost of what Christie offered, also without complete details.

The legislative tax cut has a catch. The Democratic lawmakers, like some independent economists, believe Christie's revenue projections are too optimistic. They say they will deliver the tax cut only if revenue numbers later in the year show the state can afford it.

The anti-Christie ad was paid for by the New Jersey Working Family Alliance, a group of labor and liberal organizations.

They target Christie for not making millionaires "pay their fair share" — a contention that's in the eye of the beholder. It is true that he vetoed the bill that would have raised the income tax on earnings over $1 million to 10.75 percent from the current 8.97 percent.

The narrator also asserts that Christie's budget projection is overly optimistic. "Christie's own state treasurer says revenues could fall hundreds of millions of dollars short," he says. "That shortfall could lead to drastic cuts for schools, public safety and other vital services."

The state treasurer indeed said last month that he projects revenues to be about $676 million less than Christie expects over the next year.

Even if that holds, though, deep state budget cuts would be unlikely. If revenue is low later this year, the Legislature could hold back on its tax cut — against Christie's wishes, of course.

Additionally, there's a budget surplus of about $650 million that could absorb some shortfalls before other cuts would become necessary.

The debate over taxes and the state's nearly $32 billion budget isn't likely to end soon.

Christie has promised to hold town hall meetings all summer to air complaints about the Democrats' approach.


Follow Mulvihill at http://www.twitter.com/geoffmulvihill


Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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