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All eyes on Trenton as Christie prepares for today's budget address

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    The governor will give his budget address at 3 this afternoon in Trenton.
    The governor will give his budget address at 3 this afternoon in Trenton. - (Aaron Houston / NJBIZ)

    After months of budget questions, today Gov. Chris Christie will give the Legislature — and the public — his answers.

    The governor is slated to give his fiscal 2014 budget address at 3 p.m. before a joint session of the Assembly and Senate. The speech will be Christie's chance to share his thinking regarding a fiscal landscape that's been largely in flux in recent months.

    The top-of-mind concern is Hurricane Sandy, which dealt a major blow to the state's economy in October and November, but which could lead to an economic resurgence as billions of dollars in federal aid and insurance money flood into the state.

    That could translate into strong sales and income tax collections for the state next year, but could also leave a crater on the rest of the current fiscal year.

    Christie's 2013 budget included a projection that state revenue would increase by 7 percent, but the state ended the first half of the year hundreds of millions of dollars behind that pace. The streak of bad news ended in December, the first of two straight months in which revenues beat expectations, cutting the state's revenue shortfall to $350 million and reigniting hopes the state might be able to make up most of its lost ground.

    Christie also may use the budget speech to answer another key question: whether he'll expand Medicaid coverage to some 300,000 new residents. The expansion was authorized in President Barack Obama's federal health care reform legislation, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled states had the right to opt in or out of the expansion. The federal government will cover 100 percent of the cost of the expansion through 2016, and 90 percent after 2016.

    Legislative Democrats, and Christie's gubernatorial opponent, Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen) have urged the governor to expand the program.

    If he does, Christie wouldn't be the first Republican governor to do so. The governors of Florida, Michigan, Arizona and Ohio, among others, already have agreed to the expansion.

    However, the move could prove unpopular with the wider Republican Party, and with some business groups who worry about the long-term costs of the program.

    Check NJBIZ.com later today for more coverage on the governor's speech and the budget plan. Follow @jaredkaltwasser on Twitter for live coverage from the speech.

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    Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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