New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie declared a state of fiscal emergency on Thursday, blaming the $2 billion budget gap to the state's spending addiction.
“We have to stop spending so much money,” he told CNBC. “We have more government per square mile, than any other state in America. People are fed up, and what’s happening, you’re seeing an enormous flight from our state. So even if you raise tax rates, revenue continues to go down.”
New Jersey is battling a $2 billion budget deficit in fiscal year 2010 and a projected $11 billion budget deficit for fiscal year 2011.
“I knew how bad off the state was, but we didn’t know about the $2 billion fiscal ’10 gap,” he said. “Gov. Corzine said he left us with a $500 million surplus. Surprise, surprise. In fact, they spent so much money at the end, as Gov. Corzine was leaving. He spent $200 million in extraordinary municipal aid that went to some of our major cities that they wired out the morning I was being sworn in.”
Christie, the state's first Republican governor in 12 years, took office in January and has since withheld money from 375 state programs, froze $475 million in school district aid, and slashed $12 million from hospital charity care.
He also cut $360,000 from programs designed to help the blind. The governor believes that by slashing spending, he’ll be able to lower taxes and create new jobs in a state that has higher unemployment at 10.1 percent than the national average of 9.7 percent.
“All the easy choices have been made already,” Christie said. “So when I hear people complaining and being concerned about it, I empathize with them. I made 275 freeze decisions in my first two weeks of office, and I know there are real people behind them. I don’t like doing it, but that’s what I got elected to do.”
Christie also plans to tackle pension and benefit reform. New Jersey hasn’t made contributions to the pension plan in a decade. The annual obligations that the state would have to pay at this point exceed what the state can afford, according to the Pew Center.
Christie also gave a message to state union workers: “If you continue to take the position that state worker unions take, which is no concessions, no deals, we’re the strongest, biggest union in the state, between the teachers and the state worker unions, if they’re not willing to step up to the plate and live with economic reality, we could have a situation where that kind of progress continues down a slope where it heads to insolvency.”