(Adds comment from Democratic leader)
By Elinor Comlay
TRENTON, N.J. Feb 28 New Jersey Governor Chris
Christie laid out plans to spend more money on public pensions
and roads and reiterated calls to transform the state's school
funding formula in his final budget address as leader of the
state on Tuesday.
The Republican, once a White House hopeful, said his $36.2
billion budget proposal for fiscal 2018 included a $2.5 billion
contribution to the state's retirement system for public
employees, up $647 million from last year's contribution.
He said he wants to spend an extra $400 million this fiscal
year to fix roads and deficient bridges. In October he signed
into law a gasoline tax hike of 23 cents a gallon, New Jersey's
first increase since 1988, in exchange for reducing other taxes.
This latest budget proposal does not call for any new tax
Christie said he wanted to work with lawmakers to overhaul
the state's education funding formula within 100 days, before
primary elections in June, though he did not make any changes to
the formula in his proposed budget.
His first such proposal in June 2016 to send a flat rate of
$6,599 per student to all public school districts - which would
raise spending for some and cut it for others - fell flat in the
Christie is in his eighth and final year as governor. His
presidential aspirations and approval rating at home crumbled in
the wake of the Bridgegate scandal involving his former top
Credit rating agencies have downgraded New Jersey 10 times
since Christie took office in 2010, in part because of state
Even so, Christie touted property tax aid, job growth and
lower discretionary spending by his administration in his
address to lawmakers, as well as an unemployment rate that has
fallen to 4.7 percent from 9.8 percent in 2010.
His fiscal 2018 budget anticipates a 2.6 percent increase in
spending and a 3.6 percent increase in revenues. Christie said
he had lowered the amount of one-time budget revenues to 2
percent from 13.2 percent in 2009.
He proposed using state lottery revenues to shore up the
pension system, saying this could boost the system's funded
ratio to 64 percent from 49 percent and cut unfunded liability
by about $13 billion. The shortfall is currently about $136
billion, according to S&P Global.
"While the need for real and sustainable long-term reform
cannot be understated, addressing the continued compounding of
our pension crisis requires a substantial increase in State
contributions," Christie said.
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, part of the Democratic
opposition leadership, said he would need to see details of
Christie's proposal to take money from the lottery for the
pensions, calling it "a little bit of smoke and mirrors."
But he was optimistic about finding money for road and
"I think it will be worth investing because I think it will
give us great returns," Prieto said.
(Reporting by Elinor Comlay in Trenton; Writing by Hilary Russ
in New York; Editing by David Gregorio and Andrew Hay)