During a year in which a storm thrust New Jersey — and its governor — into the national consciousness, Hurricane Sandy is expected to be among the center points of Gov. Chris Christie’s State of the State speech today.
But the state also faces many other issues, from the upcoming budget to the state’s response to the financial situation at Revel and the overall health of the Atlantic City Tourism District.
“I believe we’re all looking forward to it,” Assemblyman John Amodeo, R-Atlantic, said, “especially after the event of Sandy.”
The importance of quickly rebuilding the battered shore regions, which depend on tourism in a summer season that is rapidly approaching, cannot be overstated, he said.
“(Christie) understands how important the $38 billion tourism industry is for us, and Memorial Day is four short months away from us,” Amodeo said. “We’ve got to be focused on getting things done, on making sure the tourism areas along the shore are open for business and ready when Memorial Day comes.”
The other “looming issue,” said state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, is the shortfall in state revenue projections and its effect on the budget. Revenue has missed its targets by $700 million midway through New Jersey's fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30 — well behind the
7 percent growth rate that Christie projected.
“We are way under projections as far as revenue collections,” Whelan said. “It’s halfway through the year, and clearly we’re not only not matching the 7 percent (Christie projected), it’s not even close.”
Part of that shortfall could be attributed to Sandy, Whelan said, but not all.
“It’s going to mean painful cuts,” Whelan said. “No one is suggesting we go out and raise taxes, but we’ve got to start addressing this now.”
Amodeo said the level of destruction from both Sandy and the June 30 derecho storm “was devastating to local budgets and the state budget. In the state budget, because of the short supply of revenue because of the lost time (from the storm), we’re going to have to look at spending cuts. No doubt about it. We’ve got to get to a balanced budget by June 30.”
Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, said in a statement that the state has taken “the right steps” in properly managing its finances since Christie, a Republican, took office.
“Again, we need not change our budget approach because of Sandy,” Brown said. “Revenue figures are basically the same from last fiscal year, through November. Yet, it appears we may not gain the revenue growth we had hoped. ... Managing the spending side of our budget will remain the first priority because our residents still have to bear too much of a tax burden.”
Locally, neither Amodeo nor Whelan expected Atlantic City and the Tourism District to get a direct mention in the speech. “As a general rule, they don’t get into specifics on one particular town, one particular industry,” Whelan said. But, they said, they hope some related issues are brought up.
“I would like to hear him say he’s prepared to sign the Internet (gambling) bill,” Whelan said, referring to the bill passed by the state Senate and Assembly in December that would allow online gambling in the state, with revenue taxed at 10 percent versus 8 percent in Atlantic City. “That not only helps Atlantic City, it helps in the long run on the revenue side.”
Another issue that Christie may speak about is the ongoing lawsuit by major sports leagues opposing his plan to have sports betting in the state, as well his decision to not establishing a state-run health insurance exchange to implement the federal Affordable Care Act.
The decision means that state residents would need to use an exchange — online marketplaces where uninsured residents can shop for health care coverage — operated by the federal government.
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