Christie criticizes NJ governor's budget plan

March 15, 2009 11:33:31 AM PDT
Republican gubernatorial candidate Christopher Christie said he'd lay off state workers and eliminate $250 million in overtime to help balance the New Jersey's budget. Otherwise, Christie was not specific about what he'd do to close the state's $7 billion budget gap though he was critical of the $29.8 billion budget Gov. Jon S. Corzine proposed Tuesday.

Appearing on WNYC's Brian Lehrer radio show, the front runner for the Republican nomination said it's his job to critique Corzine's budget, not propose alternatives.

"Gov. Corzine has the responsibility for putting together this budget, and my responsibility is to critique what he's done," Christie told Lehrer on Friday.

Christie, a former U.S. attorney for New Jersey who built a reputation as a corruption-busting prosecutor during the Bush administration, is leading Corzine in early polls. The two will face off in November if Christie can clear a Republican field that includes conservative Steve Lonegan in a June primary.

Corzine's election-year budget imposes new payroll taxes on business, cuts property tax rebates for non-senior households earning more than $75,000 and eliminates the income tax deduction for property taxes next year. It maintains funding for education, expands preschools in poor districts and keeps anti-foreclosure programs and food pantry assistance.

Christie, of Mendham, said he wouldn't cut rebates or eliminate the tax deduction, but he would pour more money into education.

He called Corzine's proposal, which will require legislative approval, "a one-two-three hit for property taxpayers in New Jersey."

When pressed by Lehrer during the 23-minute exchange, however, Christie wasn't clear on how he'd balance the budget, a constitutional requirement.

He said he'd reduce or eliminate overtime costs, which were $250 million last year, and that he'd lay off an unspecified number of state workers.

Corzine's budget calls for state worker furloughs and a wage freeze. Together, those moves have been valued at about $500 million, the equivalent to salaries and benefits for 6,000 to 7,000 state workers.

The governor has said he will resort to layoffs if he doesn't achieve concessions from the union.

Christie accused Corzine of balancing the budget on the backs of middle-class taxpayers - a recurring Republican theme in recent days and an indication of the campaign rhetoric to come.

Corzine's camp, on the other hand, was quick to paint the governor as a leader willing to make tough choices in hard times.

Lonegan, an unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2005, has said he would eliminate property tax rebates, lay off 10,000 state workers and consolidate or eliminate some state departments. He said he would replace the income tax with a flat tax, which taxes residents equally regardless of income.

"The state government's policies continue to be destructive for this economy," Lonegan said after Corzine's budget speech.

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