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By Erin O'Neill August 29, 2012

Chris Christie says he balanced a budget with an $11 billion deficit

Gov. Chris Christie said he faced down the impossible when he took office.

The Republican governor told an audience at the Republican National Convention during his keynote address Tuesday night that despite the doubts of naysayers, he steered New Jersey off a path that "we could no longer afford to follow."

"Now they said it was impossible this is what they told me to cut taxes in a state where taxes were raised 115 times in eight years. That it was impossible to balance a budget at the same time, with an $11 billion deficit.  But three years later, we have three balanced budgets with lower taxes," Christie said. "We did it."

Here, we’ll assess the governor’s claim that he balanced a budget with an $11 billion deficit.

New Jersey’s Constitution requires a balanced budget every year. Christie has met that obligation in every budget year.

The major flaw with the governor’s claim is that the deficit he cites never went away. And Christie now dismisses that deficit calculation as the "old way of budgeting."

The $11 billion refers to a $10.7 billion structural deficit the state’s nonpartisan Office of Legislative Service projected for the fiscal 2011 budget year, when Christie proposed his first spending plan.

A structural deficit measures how much money the state would need if current services and revenues remained the same and all spending obligations required by statute were fully funded.

But the state does not have to meet all of its obligations since the budget supersedes statute.

So although a state statute may require certain levels of spending on different programs, the governor can sign a budget that does otherwise.

And that’s largely what Christie did in his first budget.
The governor skipped a $3.1 billion pension payment. He didn’t fully fund the school aid formula. He didn’t fully fund the state’s property tax rebate program.

And the next budget year, the state still had a projected structural deficit.

For the fiscal 2012 budget year, OLS projected a structural deficit of about $10.5 billion, nearly the same size as the previous fiscal year.

But Christie then dismissed that calculation, calling it the "old way of budgeting."

In a budget speech last year, Christie said the projected deficit "assumes no one is actually managing the budget or setting priorities. That is yesterday’s New Jersey."
Now, Christie said, "the baseline is zero" for budgeting.
Our ruling

Christie said naysayers said it was "impossible to balance a budget at the same time, with an $11 billion deficit" and "we did it."

The state Constitution requires a balanced budget every year and Christie met that obligation.

The deficit figure Christie cites refers to a $10.7 billion projected structural deficit, a calculation Christie uses to his advantage in his first budget year but has since dismissed as the old way of budgeting.

That’s important context Christie’s statement lacks. So, we rate this statement Half True.

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