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Christie, Buono Differ Sharply on Tax Cuts, Fiscal Challenges

To put that challenge in perspective, the only way Christie kept the state budgets in balance during his first term was by raiding more than $2 billion in clean energy and other dedicated funds, delaying a scheduled $395 million property tax payment until the following budget year, and shifting more than $600 million in New Jersey Turnpike toll revenue into the general budget. In fact, Sweeney predicted in June that future budget battles will be relatively tame because “there will be no money to fight over.”

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The governor and Legislature will still have to agree on a new five-year plan to refinance the Transportation Trust Fund again in late 2015 or early 2016, and the bond-rating agencies won’t let the state get away with another plan that ends up relying almost entirely on borrowing. But it isn’t just transportation.

Neither Christie nor Buono has laid out a plan to address the total $133 billion in unmet capital needs in transportation, energy, and wastewater infrastructure that the nonpartisan State Budget Crisis Task Force forecast that New Jersey would need in the years ahead. Nor did either candidate lay out a plan to fund the increased investment in higher education R&D that business leaders and policy experts regard as critical to the state’s future competitiveness in biotech, pharmaceuticals, and other cutting-edge economic sectors.

Finally, neither candidate has laid out a comprehensive plan to make a deep cut in property taxes, which are higher in New Jersey than in any other state -- an issue not only of tax equity, but also economic competitiveness.

“The 800-pound gorilla in the room is property taxes, and nothing has happened that’s substantial to cut property taxes,” said Michael Egenton, legislative director for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. “When businesses look at taxes, they look across the board.”

Evaluating Christie’s fiscal record -- and Buono’s critique of his handling of New Jersey’s finances -- requires a review of the choices Christie made in several categories: the choices he made in balancing four budgets, the taxes he chose to cut, and how the decisions he made on pension funding and other issues have affected the state’s long-term fiscal stability.

The Big Budget Cuts

Christie and Buono have sparred repeatedly over the budget-cutting decisions he made in his first months in office to fill a midyear gap in what he calls the FY2010 “Corzine-Buono budget” he inherited and to create a budget for FY2011.

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