Sunday, April 23, 2006

Tough Choices?

As I mentioned in earlier posts, I've been going through the detailed department budgets posted on the New Jersey Office of Management and Budget website. The exercise has been a real eye-opener.

In his address to the legislature, Governor Corzine presented his budget as a series of tough choices.

The task ahead is daunting and not particularly attractive politically, for anyone. That said, the task must go forward -- no matter how tough the choices -- with a readiness to share the sacrifices.
I agree with the governor. Tough choices need to be made, but this budget does not make them. With a few notable exceptions like university funding, the governor has chosen to support the status quo of unrestrained growth. Take a look at the budgets requested by each of the departments (dollars in thousands):

Departments with increases will see an additional $3.1 billion in funding; cuts to individual departments total $493 million. A six-and-a-quarter to one ratio between increases and decreases doesn't seem much of a tough choice to me.

Maybe the tough choices become apparent when you look at what the departments requested vs. what the governor recommended to the legislature. Let's see:

Nope, no touch choices here. Twenty of twenty-two departments got exactly the tax dollars they demanded of the governor. Only Treasury (1.8%) and State (20.1%) saw reductions between their requested and recommended funding levels. Reducing the desired $4.8 billion dollars of growth by less than $350 million is more like tokenism than real fiscal management.

One last thought about the governor's "tough choices." According to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, New Jersey Gross State Product grew 3.4% in 2004, and averaged 2.7% annually from 1997-2003. A budget which made tough choices would reduce growth in spending in at least one category, if not all of them, below the rate of economic growth. That doesn't happen here:

In this budget, overall spending grows at nearly three times the growth in our economy. It is irresponsible for the governor to make claims of fiscal responsibility when he proposes a budget that so far exceeds our means.

Tough choices, indeed.

Tags: New Jersey, Taxes, Budget, Corzine