TRENTON -- Gov. Chris Christie will make his final budget presentation to the state Legislature on Tuesday. Though the state has little money with which to play, it's an opportunity for Christie to introduce new initiatives, reforms and programs and cut out others.
Here are five things to look out for in his proposed budget:
Christie himself bemoaned the limited flexibility in the budget on his call-in radio show, saying that with ballooning health and pension benefits costs for government workers, "There's not a lot of room for a lot of changes."
Christie gets to set the revenue estimates for the upcoming fiscal year, and then build his spending plan on those projected tax collections. His estimates, while still rosier than actual collections, have been more realistic than in past budgets when the state came up far short.
Increases in pensions and health benefits absorb much of the natural increase in revenues.
Is Christie after Horizon cash for budget?
2. Pension payment
The governor said he will increase the annual contribution into the public pension fund by $650 million in the upcoming fiscal year. That's $650 million higher than the $1.86 billion the state is expected to chip in this year. It's also half of the contribution recommended by actuaries to keep the system healthy, but in keeping with his promise to raise the payment by one-tenth each year.
3. Education Funding
Will Christie's controversial funding proposal make it into the budget?
The governor wants to toss out the existing funding formula, which bases state aid on a district's ability to raise taxes locally, and replace it with his own proposal to distribute aid at a flat, per pupil rate.
Opponents say this will cripple urban school districts that get the bulk of their funding from the state rather than property taxes.
The plan has been panned by Democratic lawmakers who control the Legislature and would likely be challenged in the courts.
4. Drug addiction
Christie focused his State of the State address on fighting drug addiction, a commitment that came with a call for millions of dollars to be spent on treatment for young adults, college housing programs for students in recovery and pediatric behavioral health.
5. Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield's reserves
Two state lawmakers say Christie may grab $300 million from Horizon's healthy reserves for his budget.
Horizon is a tax-paying health service corporation created by state law in 1942 that until its restructuring in 1992, was known as the "insurer of last resort" for the poor, according to its website.
One legislator said he heard the governor wanted Horizon to make a "donation," or for the state to obtain the money through the legislative process.
Horizon's spokesman Kevin McArdle said the company did not have "any specific information as to what the governor will propose in his budget address tomorrow, nor have we been asked to change to our structure."
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