Gov. Chris Christie's proposed FY 2011 budget will be discussed and debated in town and school chambers over the next few months. Patch has put together this list of frequently asked questions about the governor's proposed budget as a way to help readers understand the proposals.
What is this property tax constitutional amendment?
Christie is asking the state legislature to approve an amendment to the state constitution calling for a cap of 2.5-percent in annual property tax increases. In addition he is calling for a constitutional amendment capping state budget increases at 2.5-percent.
What is the procedure to amend the state constitution?
Both the Assembly and the Senate will need to pass the amendment by a two thirds majority. The measure would then go to a statewide public referendum in the 2010 general election. Fifty percent plus one of state voters are needed to approve the amendment. The governor's signature is not needed.
What is going to happen to property tax rebates?
Christie is proposing eliminating the current property tax rebates and replacing them with property tax credits from the state. Instead of getting a check in the mail, New Jersey residents would see the credits appear on their local property tax bills.
Would the property tax credits take effect in 2010?
No, they would take effect in 2011.
What is the governor's proposal regarding state aid to local school districts?
Christie has proposed a cut of $819 million in state aid to schools. In terms of specific numbers, he is proposing that local school districts will see a state cut that is equal to no more than five percent of the total Board of Education budget.
How can local Boards of Education handle the proposed aid cut?
Local districts are required by law to present balanced budgets for voter or Board of School Estimate approval. The boards will determine budgets and tax levies based on the state aid numbers revealed by Christie. It is up to individual boards to find the money to make up for any lost state aid.
What is Christie proposing regarding collective bargaining for teachers and other public employees?
Christie has proposed legislation requiring school district employees to pay a portion of their health benefits. Currently this issue is handled by the local school district and local teachers union in contract negotiations.
Does Westfield require teachers to contribute to health benefits?
Yes, the Board of Education and the Westfield Education Association have reached an agreement requiring WEA members to pay part of their health benefits.
What are the changes being made to public employee pensions?
Christie, with the support of state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), is proposing that public employees contribute more to their pensions. A bill is currently heading through the state legislature to implement this proposal. Public employee unions are against this. Christie is also proposing limiting pensions to full-time employees only.
Is Christie cutting municipal aid?
Yes, the governor is proposing a cut of $445 million.
Will there be changes to the special and extraordinary state aid to municipalities?
If Christie has his way, yes. The governor said the Department of Community Affairs is designing a new program for the special aid which will reduce the amount given out. Christie said in the future municipalities will need to demonstrate to DCA that they are cutting their budgets before being able to receive the extra aid.
What are the percentage cuts the governor is proposing to individual state departments?
Department of Agriculture: 24%
Department of Banking and Insurance: 12%
Department of Children and Families: 4%
Department of Community Affairs: 35%
Department of Corrections: 7%
Department of Environmental Protection: 2%
Department of Education: 8%
Department of Health and Senior Services: 6%
Department of Human Services: 4%
Department of Labor: 6%
Department of Law and Public Safety (State Attorney General): 7%
Department of Military and Veterans Affairs: 2%
Department of the Public Advocate: 25%
Department of State: 11%
Department of Transportation: 3%
Department of the Treasury: 39%
Are there any budget hikes proposed by Christie?
Yes, Christie is proposing increasing the budget for hospitals in New Jersey.
Where does the budget go from here?
The budget committees in the Assembly and the Senate will be holding a series of public hearings on the budget. These hearings will lead to the legislature drafting a response to Christie's budget. The governor and legislative leaders will negotiate a final budget for a legislative vote. The final budget needs to be adopted by June 30.
What happens if the budget is not adopted by June 30?
State government will shut down like it did in 2006 when then Gov. Jon Corzine and the legislature could not agree on a budget. Unlike 2006, casinos will not shut down.