State Budget Op-Ed

Christie Todd Whitman
The Record
April 26, 2009

While the current economic crisis poses a tremendous challenge for our nation’s families as well as our leaders, it also brings a tremendous opportunity for governments at all levels to prioritize their spending. This is, after all, one of the primary functions of an executive – to cautiously examine spending proposals and only choose those that are appropriate and most important.

Here in New Jersey, we are not immune from these pressures and often debate the size of state government using a string of fiscal year budgets to prove our point. Governor Corzine, to his credit, has presented a fiscal year 2010 budget that is close to $1.2 billion less than his first budget; the FY 2007 proposed budget was $30.97 billion while the FY 2010 proposed budget is $29.8 billion. Yet it is important to remember that the FY 2006 budget proposed by Governor Codey was $27.4 billion, making Corzine’s first budget $3.5 billion higher than the one he had been given and his second budget an additional $2.4 billion higher than his first. So while his current budget is less than his first, it would be incorrect to suggest that he has cut the size of government in his time in office.

I have made a point of avoiding criticism of any sitting governor, but I believe it is important to point out facts. I raise this issue not to unfairly denigrate the Governor, but rather to raise the importance of fiscal discipline in this tenuous time in our nation and our state. We must get serious about cutting spending. My first budget was less than Governor Florio’s last and my second budget was virtually flat when compared with the first.

Another budgetary trick of governors and legislators alike has been so-called “one-shot” revenues that cover the difference between recurring revenues (taxes) and spending – this difference is called the structural deficit. While there will always be some one-time savings or revenue sources in any budget, the goal should be to keep them at a minimum.
Although my fiscal record as governor is often criticized by the pundits, I am proud that we cut almost all of these “one-shot” revenue gimmicks sources and virtually eliminated the structural deficit during my time in office. Governor Florio’s last budget had $1.5 billion in one-shots and my last budget, FY02, had just $33 million. Sadly, reliance on one-shots to balance the budget has returned; McGreevey had $3.3 billion in non-recurring revenues and Corzine managed to cut this deficit to a mere $600 million in FY09. Interestingly, the FY 2010 Budget in Brief makes no mention on non-recurring revenues. I will be watching to see what the structural deficit has become in this latest budget proposal.

I am not so naïve as to think Governor Corzine has an easy job when it comes to being fiscally tough, but we elected someone from Wall Street because we hoped he would have innovative ideas to realign our finances after the utter havoc McGreevey wreaked on them. It is my fervent hope that he will have the fortitude, wisdom and creativity to make the tough choices needed for our state.