Four years ago, Gov. Chris Christie inherited a state with a massive built-in budget deficit, a millionaire’s tax about to expire, and $2 billion in federal stimulus funding about to go away. Property taxes were rising, as was state debt. The state’s long-term unfunded liability for pension and retiree healthcare costs for teachers, police, and state and local government employees was a staggering $100 billion. The Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund was broke, and a new $8 billion plan would soon be needed to pay for highway, bridge, and mass transit capital projects.
The policy choices that Christie made to address those fiscal crises, the tax and budget votes that his Democratic challenger, Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex), cast in her 18 years in the Legislature, and the sharply divergent approaches they would take to the state’s future funding challenges are the most critical differences they have laid out in their year-long campaigns:
While Christie rules out any tax increase and has been pushing the Legislature to implement an immediate tax cut to be funded out of future revenues, Buono questions whether the money will be there to pay for it. Instead, she favors reimposition of a millionaire’s tax to pay for property tax relief for lower- and middle-income taxpayers.
While Buono charges that net out-of-pocket property tax costs for the average family have risen 18.7 percent since Christie took office because of rebate cuts, Christie touts two years of near-record-low increases in actual property tax bills because of legislation he championed that imposed a 2 percent spending cap, limited arbitration awards, and required public employees to pay more for their pensions and health benefits -- a bill Buono opposed.
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