The New York Times
By: Richard Perez-Pena
July 1, 2011
TRENTON -- Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday vetoed more than $1.3 billion in spending, much of it for schools, and struck down a sharp tax increase on high-income people in a sweeping rejection of attempts by Democrats in the Legislature to assert some control over the state budget.
On the final day of the fiscal year, with a government shutdown looming at midnight if a new spending plan were not completed, Mr. Christie, a Republican, capped the months-long budget process with a demonstration of both the broad powers of New Jersey's governor, and his willingness to use them more aggressively than his predecessors did.
The governor vetoed some fiscal bills outright, including one that would have imposed a ''millionaire's tax,'' and he used his line-item veto authority to reduce or eliminate dozens of appropriations that the Legislature had inserted. The result is a $29.7 billion budget -- less, in inflation-adjusted terms, than the $29.4 billion spent over the past year, and about $5 billion below what the state spent in 2007-8.
With Democrats in control of both the Assembly and Senate, but short of the two-third majorities needed to override vetoes, the governor's actions are likely to be final.
Mr. Christie, speaking at a news conference in the State House, said that Democrats had chosen ''to revert to the same fantasy, unrealistic budgeting that has plagued Trenton for years and is the reason New Jersey got into fiscal trouble in the first place.''
''I wish I could be Santa Claus sometimes, too,'' he said. ''But I was sent to Trenton to be the adult supervision.''
The budget vetoes come a week after the Legislature passed -- over bitter opposition from labor unions and most Democratic lawmakers -- a bill greatly increasing what state and local government employees must pay for health care and pension benefits and reducing their collective bargaining rights. Together, the benefits bill and the budget give Mr. Christie another round of major victories in his drive to shrink government spending and improve the state's shaky long-term financial footing.
Democrats charged that the governor favored the wealthy over everyone else, and wanted to feed his growing national standing among conservatives.
''The governor would rather jeopardize the well-being of the people who elected him to office in order to score points with the national conservative media,'' said Sheila Y. Oliver, the Assembly speaker.
Last year, the governor reduced state aid to school districts by $820 million, to about $8 billion; dozens of the most affluent districts stopped receiving any money from Trenton. But this year, the state Supreme Court ruled that the state had violated earlier rulings requiring heavy support for 31 poor, urban districts.
The new budget adds almost $850 million in school aid, including $447 million for those 31 districts, to satisfy the court ruling. But Mr. Christie vetoed an additional $412 million for schools that the Legislature had approved on Monday.
Other major items he vetoed included $50 million to help cities short of cash reverse or avert layoffs of police officers, and wording the Legislature inserted to try to prevent the governor from changing Medicaid eligibility rules. In one of the more politically charged items, he eliminated $7.5 million for women's health clinics, the subject of a battle with Democrats that has lasted more than a year.
The Legislature voted to expand two cherished Democratic programs, a tax credit for the working poor and property tax rebates for senior citizens, but Mr. Christie vetoed both items.
Democrats are predicting that those actions, like the vetoes for police and schools, will make potent attack lines for them in this year's legislative elections.
Over the last few days, there was heated debate among the governor's advisors over whether to rely on his line-item veto power, or to use what is called a conditional veto, which would have forced a government shutdown. With a conditional veto, a bill is rejected unless the Legislature makes specific changes demanded by the governor, or overrides the veto.
Lawmakers said it would be hard to round up the votes to make the changes -- even some Republicans objected -- and impossible to override, leaving matters in limbo.
''I was sorely tempted, but reason prevailed,'' Mr. Christie said, of using a conditional veto.