Casino-revenue-tax collections are already

$11 million short of projections for the new fiscal year that began July 1.

But before you count this as more bad news about an industry that doesn't need any more bad news, some perspective is in order.

The casino-revenue-tax projections - like all of Gov. Chris Christie's revenue projections in the current budget - were wildly over-optimistic. Impossible, in fact. Actually, a complete and total fiction.

But that's how we "balance" budgets in New Jersey.

Overall, the $31.7 billion budget Christie signed on July 29 banks on a 7.2 percent increase in state revenue. That's the most optimistic projected growth rate in the nation, according to The Star-Ledger - and a projection so out of line with reality that it prompted Standard & Poor's to lower New Jersey's credit outlook to negative from stable.

And, according to Christie's projections, that overall 7.2 percent increase in tax revenue would be fueled by a 14 percent increase in gross casino revenue. This, in an industry that has seen year-over-year revenue increases in only two months since 2008.

Yes, lots of good things are happening in Atlantic City these days, with the new Tourism District, the opening of Revel, and the Atlantic City Alliance's new marketing campaign. But those improvements haven't translated into revenue increases - yet. And no one in Atlantic City expects a 14 percent increase in casino revenue this year.

That's true today, and it was true the day Christie signed the budget. The fact that the casino revenue tax - the state's six-largest source of income - is $11 million short of projections is just part of a larger problem. Overall, state tax collections are $100 million below projections for the first two months of the fiscal year, according to the state treasurer.

So this is not Atlantic City problem. It's a Chris Christie problem, one created by revenue projections that had more to do with propping up the governor's national reputation than with actually balancing New Jersey's budget.

Christie isn't the first governor to play this game. But he's the first to play it quite so brazenly.


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