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It’s the number that keeps on giving.
Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick is the latest public official to get mileage from a claim about an $11 billion albatross that was hanging around Chris Christie’s neck when he became governor in 2010.
Bramnick, a Republican representing parts of Union, Somerset and Morris counties, mentioned the number during a roundtable discussion Feb. 8 for NJTV’s "On The Record" with Michael Aron. PolitiFact New Jersey has checked the existence of such a deficit on several occasions when Christie made similar claims.
Why did Bramnick bring up the number?
Bramnick and several other legislators were discussing the concept of the state returning money to municipalities that utilities pay towns for hosting utility poles, facilities and more. That money is paid to the state, which is supposed to then send the money – estimated in the hundreds of millions -- to the municipalities. That hasn’t happened, however, as the state grapples with various economic issues. Bramnick said the theory of returning the money is an idea no one would disagree with, but he questioned where the millions would come from.
"When this governor came to office, he had (an) 11 billion dollar -- I call it mismanagement – deficit," Bramnick said, adding that Christie has been working to improve the state’s finances.
Bramnick’s right that Christie took office with an $11 billion deficit, but that number is a theoretical figure only.
Let’s explain the deficit.
The $11 billion refers to a $10.7 billion structural deficit the state’s nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services projected for the fiscal 2011 budget year. That budget was put together under then-Gov. Jon Corzine. Christie’s first budget was for fiscal year 2012.
A structural deficit measures how much money the state would need if current services and revenues remained the same and all statutory spending obligations were fully funded.
The state, however, does not have to meet all of its obligations since the budget supersedes statute.
That means that while a state statute may require certain levels of spending on different programs, the governor can sign a budget that does otherwise.
And like his predecessor, that’s basically what Christie did when it was his turn to craft a spending plan. In Christie’s case, he skipped a $3 billion pension payment and didn’t fully fund the school-aid formula or the state’s property tax rebate program.
The result? New Jersey still had a projected structural deficit for the fiscal 2012 budget year, but slightly smaller. It was $10.5 billion, according to the OLS.
So there was an approximate $11 billion deficit when Christie took office, but in theory only.
Bramnick acknowledged that the deficit in place when Christie took office was a structural deficit, and said he cited it during the discussion to illustrate the state’s financial woes.
Bramnick said during a roundtable discussion on NJTV’s "On The Record" with Michael Aron" that "when this governor came to office, he had (an) 11 billion dollar -- I call it mismanagement -- deficit."
The OLS projected a nearly $11 billion structural deficit for the fiscal year 2011 budget created under Corzine, but it’s the type of deficit that measures how much money the state would need to maintain funding for services, if all required spending was fully funded and revenues stayed the same.
Bramnick’s right that a deficit existed when Christie came into office, but it was a theoretical one that resulted because administrations prior to Christie’s didn’t spend all of the money needed to fully fund required expenses -- a move Christie repeated for his first budget as governor. We rate Bramnick's claim Mostly True.
To comment on this story, go to NJ.com.
NJTV’s "On The Record" with Michael Aron, Feb. 9, 2013, accessed Feb. 11, 12 and 13, 2013
PolitiFact New Jersey, Chris Christie says New Jersey faced an $11 billion deficit in fiscal year 2011, Jan. 9, 2013, accessed Feb. 12 and 13, 2013
PolitiFact New Jersey, Chris Christie claims he balanced two budgets while facing $13 billion in deficits and didn’t raise taxes, Oct. 2, 2011, accessed Feb. 12 and 13, 2013
Phone interview with Rich Savner, spokesman, Assembly Republicans, Feb. 13, 2013
Phone interview with Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, Feb. 14, 2013
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