The final round in the New Jersey Legislature's bitter budget fight is expected tomorrow, when law-makers say they will approve a $14.9 billion budget for fiscal 1993, beginning July 1.
Tomorrow's vote will end an acrimonious process marked by unexpected deficits and partisan finger pointing that began with the November elections.
The budget, crafted largely by Gov. Jim Florio's Republican opponents, includes $1.1 billion in budget cuts and a $608 million sales tax reduction.
In a radio address yesterday, the governor refused to say whether he would sign the budget, but the Legislature has enough Republican votes to override a veto.
New Jersey lawmakers have been feuding for months over whether the state can afford a tax rollback during a time when revenues are more than $300 million below estimate. Adding to the revenue problem is the loss of a $450 million Medicaid reimbursement from the federal government, which the Florio administration and the Legislature were counting on to help balance the budget.
Republicans took control of the Legislature from the Democrats in an upset election in November on promises to roll back the governor's $2.8 billion tax rise in 1990. Once the size of the budget problem became obvious, however, most lawmakers stepped back and agreed to support only a rollback of the sales tax to 6% from 7%.
The largest adjustment Republicans have made to compensate is a $385 million cut in New Jersey's Homestead Rebate Program, a popular tax refund from the state that the governor hoped to spare from the budget axe.
Gov. Florio also criticized the cut in rebates yesterday as a hidden tax increase. "When I had to raise taxes in 1990, at least I said so," the governor said. "And I took the heat."
The budget also includes about $155 million in program cuts, including a $34 million slice from New Jersey Transit's state aid package. Reductions in payrolls and administrative expenses amount to about $110 million, according to an analysis by the treasurer's office.
The analysis indicates the Republican budget would require at least 8,500 layoffs of state employees, Treasurer Samuel Crane said. But Republican leaders said this week the number is much lower. New Jersey has already cut 4,000 positions so far this year.
Mr. Crane also said the budget recognizes only a small portion of the total interest costs associated with New Jersey's year-old short-term borrowing program. And he said about $367 million of the cuts the Legislature is proposing cannot be achieved in the way lawmakers have proposed. Some, for example, would require special actions by the Legislature, he said.
Those oversights mean New Jersey must find another $200 million by the end of the month to end the 1992 fiscal year in balance, according to Mr. Crane.
"Obviously, this is not achievable," he said, adding that the fiscal 1993 budget appears even more out of balance. "The Legislature said they would eliminate the structural deficit. This proposed budget spends $800 million more than recurring revenue."
Rating agency officials say they are waiting for a final budget to emerge before commenting on specific proposals.
Steven Hochman, assistant director of state ratings at Moody's Investors Service, said the final budget details will be studied to determine how heavily New Jersey is leaning on non-recurring revenues for the next budget year. One such proposal, which involves revaluing the state pension fund, contains significant one-shot revenues.
In fiscal 1992, New Jersey earned $400 million by selling a stretch of highway to the state's Turnpike Authority.
Mr. Hochman also noted that the budget is only one piece of the rating analysis. In addition, he said, the agency must review such factors as the state's economy, income and debt levels, and protections for bondholders.
Both Moody's and Fitch Investors Service rate New Jersey triple-A, but Standard & Poor's Corp. cut its rating to AA-plus from AAA last July in response to 1992 budget troubles.