direct aid to school districts in New Jersey.
Earlier this year, Christie also convinced lawmakers to merge Rutgers University with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and voters approved a $750 million higher-education bond issue he supported. But the governor has yet to get his full education agenda enacted by the Legislature, including a merit-pay system for teachers.
Budget: Christie's current state budget is in jeopardy because his bold projections for revenue growth have, so far, not materialized. The $31.7 billion spending plan, enacted last June, increased state spending by $2 billion, using projections that were widely viewed at the time as excessively optimistic. Now, six months into the fiscal year, tax collections have fallen short of those projections, with more than a dozen streams of revenue in some type of trouble.
Unless the gap -- measured by the most recently available Treasury revenue reports at $451 million -- is made up before the end of June, Christie could be forced to make midyear spending cuts just to keep the budget in balance as required by the state constitution. The budget problems have also put the income tax cut that Christie hoped to have in place for his reelection bid on the chopping block in 2013.
Pension system: Christie worked with Democratic lawmakers to make public employees pay more for their health and pension benefits, another major victory and a first for the state. On the pension side, the changes were designed to address a system that was underfunded by tens of billions of dollars as of the last accounting -- a significant factor in the state's credit downgrade by major Wall Street ratings agencies in 2011. The new pension rules have helped reduce the shortfall, but that unfunded liability remains at more than $36 billion. And the gap will continue to widen as long as Christie continues to skip or only partially pay what actuaries say the state should be putting into the pension system on an annual basis.
Borrowing: The last time New Jersey's debt total was officially released -- over a year ago, with the current report now a month overdue -- the figure stood at $38 billion. The rate of growth, however, seems to have slowed during Christie's tenure. But New Jerseyans continue to carry more debt per capita than the residents of nearly every other state. A total of 7 percent in new borrowing has been added to the state's debt burden since Christie took office. And earlier this year, as the revenue shortfalls began to multiply, Christie stuck with his plan to increase spending even when it meant borrowing millions more.
Ethics: Christie was the U.S. attorney for New Jersey before becoming governor, taking on public corruption with high-profile investigations that resulted in elected officials from both parties going to prison. And his first State House news conference as a candidate in 2009 highlighted ethics and government reform. As governor, Christie put forward an ambitious ethics agenda. It calls for new campaign-finance rules and a complete ban on elected officials holding other offices or taxpayer-funded jobs. But the governor hasn't been able to convince lawmakers to enact his ethics reforms. And he has raised eyebrows for not seeking transparency from two federally registered groups that have spent millions to boost his image both in New Jersey and nationally without having to fully disclose donors.
Supreme Court: Christie still wants to remake the state Supreme Court, but his efforts to do so have become one of the most contentious issues of his tenure. It started in 2010, when the governor refused to reappoint Justice John Wallace, the court's only African-American member. Democrats, in response, refused to fill Wallace's seat until his term would have ended in 2012. Christie was able to successfully seat Justice Anne Patterson, a Republican who cleared the Senate in 2011, in another open spot. But Wallace's seat, and one for retiring Justice Virginia Long, remain open after Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected the governor's two nominees in historic 2012 votes. Now, hearings for the two new nominees the governor named late last year are pending. Meanwhile, key issues such as school funding and affordable housing remain before the court.
Social issues: Christie has clearly made his mark. The governor rejected a bill that would have legalized same-sex marriage last year. An abortion opponent, he cut funding for women's health programs and eliminated state money for Planned Parenthood, an agency that offers the procedure. He used his executive authority to rewrite the state's medical marijuana law, making it much tougher for patients to obtain a prescription and for dispensaries to open. Since the law was signed by Gov. Jon Corzine the day before Christie was inaugurated, only one dispensary, located in Montclair, has opened and only a couple of hundred patients have been approved.
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