WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
In NJ Budget Battle, Dems Try to Stay in Sync
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
The Democratically-controlled Senate and Assembly in Trenton will work on their counter budget proposal to Governor Chris Christie's $32 billion spending plan on Thursday.
With the June 30 deadline approaching, behind the scenes fissures created over past leadership battles between the Democrats continue to fester.
On some broad issues, such as providing property tax relief for the middle class, Democrats appear united. But on hot button issues, like how best to counter Christie’s budget or his plans to reorganize higher education, Assembly Democrats are fractured.
"You see this kind of intra-party fighting that, up until this point, has been relatively quiet during the Christie administration. And we are really seeing it come to a head this week," explained Bridget Callahan-Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair State University.
There is also lingering alienation between Democrats and what Callahan-Harrison dubs "Christiecrats" — Democrats who voted with Christie on his public employee pension reforms.
Harrison said a divided Democratic party gives Governor Christie more room to maneuver and push his priorities, like a 10 percent income tax cut.
While Democrats scramble to get on the same page, Governor Christie continues to stay on message at his town halls, branding any Democrat who favors the re-imposition of the state's millionaire's tax "Corzine Democrats."
Christie told a packed Cedar Grove town hall earlier this week that he'd veto any budget that included the high end tax he's already vetoed twice.
"Until I can look at you and say that we have government under control and every dollar we’re spending is spent well, I am not raising taxes on people in the state," Christie stated emphatically. "We are not doing it on anybody."
For Christie, his biggest impediment may be the reality that his own administration's tax revenue projections are said to between $700 million to $1.4 billion off for this year and next.
Democrats have said they will set aside $183 million for some form of a tax cut, but will only phase it in if Christie's optimistic revenue projections prove to be accurate.
Peter Woolley, director of Fairleigh Dickinson University Public Mind Poll, said no matter how the budget show down goes down, Christie's going to have a strong message to take to the Republican National Convention in Tampa later this summer.
"I think Christie wins either way, at least in the short run," Woolley said. "If he gets what he wants at the end of next week, he can claim bipartisanship. If he doesn't, he can claim obstructionism. The beauty of it is that both are plausibly true."