By ANGELA DELLI SANTI
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) â¿¿ New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie proposed a $32.9 billion budget Tuesday that allows more poor residents to enroll in Medicaid and increases public school aid but defers property tax rebates for three months to cover a projected budget shortfall.
Christie, a possible Republican presidential contender in 2016 who is seeking a second term as governor in November, touted the budget as a blueprint that seeks fiscal stability without forgetting about the state's most vulnerable residents. The Democratic-led Legislature must approve the plan.
"We are meeting the needs of our people in this budget, we are doing it by spending less than the state spent in fiscal year 2008," he said in an afternoon budget address at the Statehouse.
The governor claimed victory for revamping rules that strip teachers of lifetime tenure and for keeping property tax increases to 1.4 percent this year, but he presented no big initiative or surprises in his election-year budget.
Afterward, Democrats said they liked some â¿¿ but not all â¿¿ of what they heard from the governor.
"It was nice that we all gathered in the chamber," Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver said, "but I want (to hear) some meat."
Christie's budget proposal comes as the state rebounds from Superstorm Sandy, the worst natural disaster in state history. It counts on nearly 5 percent revenue growth, down from more than 7 percent in the current budget, which Treasurer Andrew Eristoff acknowledged Tuesday that the state is unlikely to meet.
The governor is banking on federal Sandy relief funding to stimulate the state's still-sluggish economy and help coastal communities rebuild. Twenty-five municipalities lost at least 5 percent of their tax base after Sandy because of destroyed homes and closed businesses.
The first $1.8 billion in relief money is due in April but New Jersey could see $100 million less than expected unless there's a deal in Washington to eliminate federal cuts set to take effect Friday.