Op-Ed on NJ Budget Process

As first appeared on NJ.com:

Wouldn’t it be great if we could ignore our rent or mortgage payment, forget about the utility bills and just spend money on whatever we want, hoping our income over the year will eventually cover it all?

Sounds great, but as New Jerseyans we know it isn’t wise or responsible. Yet, that’s what our elected officials in Trenton are doing with our hard-earned tax dollars, even as the State faces a financial crisis this year.

It began last July, when Governor Phil Murphy and the legislature launched the largest budget in New Jersey history, sailing through a $37.4 billion spending plan for Fiscal Year 2019. The Governor said he wanted to use the state budget to create a “stronger and fairer economy.”

Putting aside his questionable goal of social engineering via state budgeting, the Governor’s plan to pay for his excessive “dream-spending” was the first warning sign of disaster.

He began with $1.4 billion in new taxes on New Jersey families and employers, who are already among the most overtaxed in the nation and struggling to survive in an increasingly unaffordable state. The administration then made an overly rosy projection on how much in tax revenues the state would collect over the year. It was akin to a family spending money throughout the year based on an assumption that everyone in the household will get a raise at work and maybe an inheritance check from a forgotten aunt.

That type of reckless state management is why the Pew Charitable Trusts recently listed New Jersey dead last in the nation for fiscal responsibility. After a 15-year look-back on state budgeting between 2003 and 2017, they ranked New Jersey the worst for balancing its revenues with annual expenses.
The bad news, it is happening again.

The revenues taken in by the state in the first six months of the fiscal year fell drastically behind the dreams of the Trenton politicians.
When hardworking New Jersey families face an income shortfall at home, they stop spending on extra items. We prioritize expenses, cut back where needed and become more frugal. By contrast, Trenton politicians just keep on spending.

While Governor Murphy is donning a poker face and issuing condescending assurances that revenues will improve, legislators have been proposing supplemental spending bills — trying to add millions of dollars in more spending despite the revenue shortfall. Some also are trying to add to the burden on taxpayers by undoing the 2011 reforms made to the generous benefits packages paid to the state’s massive public workforce.

Of course, there continues to be the seemingly daily tax ideas out of Trenton, where they are talking now about a jet fuel tax and a Rain Tax. Enough is enough. Taxpayers must give Trenton a wake-up call as the Governor introduces his 2020 budget on March 5 and either tries to raise taxes or invokes discredited budget gimmicks, such as leveraging state assets to finance Trenton’s spending addiction.

Trenton’s career politicians know the situation is unsustainable.

They also know this current financial crisis is a hiccup compared to the looming state obligation to its under-funded public pension system, an obligation that exceeds $100 billion dollars. Each year the state has to scrape together billions of dollars just to make an annual pension payment (and usually far below what it responsibly should make) while also spending billions to fund the platinum health care benefits and annually increasing salaries of public workers.

These are fixed obligations—they are not going away. So, when politicians add on more spending, New Jersey families and employers will face new tax hikes. Governor Murphy and our Legislature know this.

But what they need to understand is, just as our families do when money is tight, it is time Trenton starts making tough decisions and getting their hands out of our pockets. We need to let them know we are watching and ready to hold accountable everyone in Trenton who continues to make this state unaffordable for hard-working families. Enough is enough!

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