Standard and Poor’s: Christie’s Budget Structually Unbalanced, Based On Optimistic Revenue Projections
O’Scanlon: “I’m holding my breath waiting for S&P to revise their report.”
Wall Street rating agency, Standard and Poor’s, released an analysis of Governor Christie’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget yesterday that concurred with the reaction that many on both sides of the aisle have had since Christie addressed the legislature on Monday; Where are these revenue numbers coming from?
NEW YORK (Standard & Poor’s) Feb. 24, 2012–New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
released his proposed $32.15 billion budget for fiscal 2013 on Feb. 21. The
budget remains structurally unbalanced, is built on what Standard & Poor’s
Ratings Services regards as optimistic economic projections to close the
budget gap, and increases New Jersey’s (AA-/Stable) reliance on nonrecurring
Christie’s budget projects revenue growth of 7.3% to $31.86 billion. Based upon the state’s projections, revenue would have increased 9%, if not for Christie’s proposed income tax reduction. While S&P concurs that revenue could increase significantly in a strong economy given New Jersey’s high income and progressive income tax structure, the agency doesn’t see a strong economy on the horizon in New Jersey until 2015.
“Due to New Jersey’s high incomes and the state’s progressive income tax
structure, we believe revenues could rebound significantly in a strong
economy,” said Mr. Sugden-Castillo. “However, in our view, the economic
assumptions that underpin the state’s revenue forecast appear to be optimistic based on current and projected economic conditions at the state and national levels,” he added. Through the first half of fiscal 2012, New Jersey revenues grew 3.2% from fiscal 2011, but are still falling 3.2% below budgeted amounts. According to IHS Global Insight Inc., the state will register 1.3% growth in 2012- 16th among all states. Unemployment in the state was 9% as of December 2011. IHS Global Insight projects employment will not return to pre-recession levels until 2015 and projects unemployment to remain above 8% through 2014.
Assemblyman Declan O’Scalon, the Republican Budget Officer in the lower house, said that S&P’s report is so flawed that it resembles a political hit piece more than an objective credit analysis.
“S&P, and other critics, are relying on the year to date short fall in our current revenues compared to budget in order to give their criticism of our new budget credibility,” said O’Scanlon, “They are all ignoring the well known fact that the lion’s share of state revenue comes in during the first quarter of the calendar year.”
O’Scanlon said that New Jersey’s revenue receipts will be right on budget at the end of February and that S&P should have known that.
“I’m holding my breath waiting for S&P to revise their report,” said O’Scanlon, “For two years, the Christie administration’s revenue projections have been spot on. I’m confident they will be this year too.”
Regarding the reliance of non-recurring revenues O’Scanlon said, “13% of Jon Corzine’s last budget relied on so-called one shot gimmicks. The Christie administration reduced that to 4% in the current budget and it’s only 5% in the proposed budget. There are always going to be non-recurring items. We (the Republicans) have brought them down to prudent levels. S&P should be praising that part of our budget, not criticising it.”
S&P also criticized the Christie administration for underfunding the state pension system:
Slightly more than half of the increase ($587 million) in
total spending is tied to pension funding cost increases. Total funding for
defined benefit pensions grows to $1.1 billion in fiscal 2013 from $484
million in fiscal 2012. Defined Benefit Pension funding accounts for 3.33%of
spending in the proposed budget. Despite this significant increase, New Jersey
is only funding 28.6%, or 2/7ths, of its statutorily determined actuarial
recommended contribution, which is different from ARC as defined by GASB.
According to the state, the ARC as calculated by GASB is normally higher than
the statutorily determined actuarial recommended contribution. The
underfunding of the ARC results in continued pressure on its pension system.
“To treat what the Christie administration has done with the pension system as news and a negative ignores recent history and raises suspicions of political motivation on the part of S&P,” O’Scanlon charged, “The Governor’s proposed budget makes the largest pension contribution in New Jersey history and is right on track with the pension reforms and benefit reforms passed last year.”
O’Scanlon defended the 3.7% increase in spending under the proposed budget. “What should be cut? The increased spending on education and municipal aid holds down property taxes. The other increases are for pensions and higher education, which has been neglected for decades. Our educated and sophisticated workforce is our most important asset.”
John Sugden-Castillo, S&P’s primary credit analyst for the report, has not responded to an email asking for comment.