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Poll: How Would You Solve Gov. Christie’s State Budget Crisis?

That oft-mentioned $1.6B is a sizable chunk of change. Does getting to that number call for extreme belt-tightening or wishful thinking?

There are only three more months left in this fiscal year and if New Jersey follows a court order issued in February, the state is on the hook for finding $1.6 billion in a tight budget to meet legally required pension contributions. The issue stems back years, when governors of both parties failed to make the actuarially recommended payments to the state pension system, which covers teachers and state workers.

Despite having signed a law in 2011 that was supposed to rectify the problem, Gov. Chris Christie has been stumping throughout the state telling voters that New Jersey simply cannot afford to make the contractually obligated payments and that the system needs to be overhauled. He has also asked the state Supreme Court to fast-track the appeals process -- skipping the Appellate Court -- to finally determine what the state must do this year and next. In both years, Christie has proposed making a much smaller pension payment than he promised four years ago when he signed the legislation.

There are no easy answers, but given the problems facing the State of New Jersey …

What do you think we should do?

  • Christie is right. We can’t afford it. He needs to fight this as long and as far as he can. If need be, we should have a constitutional amendment that overhauls the system and spreads the payments out as long as possible.

  • Budget officer David Rosen of the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services identified more than $1 billion in the current budget where we could cut back. That includes eliminating the Homestead property-tax relief program, the remainder of school-aid payments, and the rest of the higher-education payments, as well as cutting hospital aid. Plus, we can eliminate the expected $338 million emergency surplus. We need to plan on those cuts now before they evaporate.

  • We need to save education and hospital aid -- otherwise municipalities will just have to bear the burden -- but we can eliminate the Homestead property-tax relief program. Heck, we’ve done it before. And then we need to search the cushions for additional money, delay some other things, use the surplus, and hope it’s enough.

  • Christie doesn’t want to raise taxes -- particularly when he is running for president -- but the problem can’t be solved simply with some temporary cuts. We need to revisit the revenue side of the ledger and consider a true millionaire’s tax of 10.75 percent for income over $1 million, evaluate rolling back corporate tax cuts that he initiated, and raise the gas tax.

  • We’ve got to stop kicking the can down the road. We need to consider all of the above -- in particular some tax revisions -- and solve the problem for good. No governor wants to do it but if Christie was a real leader, he’d look at the problem seriously and stop trying to patch things for short-term gain.

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