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GRAPEVINE: Anticipated revenue shortfall not as daunting as it sounds?

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The big news out of Trenton last week after the first round of hearings on Gov. Chris Christie's $34.4 billion budget was that the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services projected a $526 million revenue shortfall through the end of fiscal year 2015.

According to OLS, that's $217 million shy in the current budget and another $309 million short next year. That's a lot of dough, for sure.

And naturally, state Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff defended Christie's revenue projections, saying they were much more on-target than OLS was suggesting, and so on.

Welcome to budget season, folks.

But as one insider sees it, last week wasn't anything out of the ordinary.

"I don't see it as overly contentious as I've seen it in past years," the source said.

As for the severity of OLS' projected shortfall figure, that's also up for debate. Just as Christie's numbers may seem inflated to them, OLS' figures aren't necessarily ironclad stats.

While officials cited the Garden State's trailing of neighbors New York and Pennsylvania in its continued economic recovery, the projected shortfall is also the smallest difference seen in the past three budget cycles.

And that's why they're called "projections."

"In the end, it always works out," the source said. "The numbers are the numbers. Sometimes they're closer to their mark than you think."

Bagger next in line for chair?

The perpetual buzz around the Port Authority continued last week, this time over Gov. Chris Christie's comment that splitting the bistate agency "may have some merit."

So don't be surprised that there's been little talk about a successor to David Samson, who resigned as chairman amid the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal.

It's unclear who will fill the void or when that decision gets made, but one insider floated the possibility of another familiar face from New Jersey:

"My bet would be Rich Bagger," the source speculated. "That's what I would do if I were the governor."

Bagger, a Port Authority board member since 2012, was Christie's first chief of staff after the governor was elected. He's also a well-liked former state lawmaker and mayor of Westfield, and the source said "he's got all the right elements to step in and be the chair."

Bagger is diplomatic but strong, the person said, and he's got the bipartisan political savvy needed to navigate the Port Authority.

"I think the first two years of the Christie administration went very smoothly because Rich had the gray hairs and the experience in that position to work both sides of the aisle and get a lot done," the source said. "Since he stepped down, it hasn't been as smooth for the governor."

Bagger chairs the authority's finance committee and sits on the audit committee.

And it can't hurt that Bagger's day job isn't with a law firm but as an executive with the pharma company Celgene. That doesn't exactly scream "conflict of interest."

Radio silence

Even with its high-profile and often-tortured history, the American Dream Meadowlands project marked a milestone last week that went largely unnoticed.

That was the demolition of three 500-foot radio towers on the edge of the East Rutherford sports complex, where developer Triple Five will build its new water and amusement parks.

The former ESPN-owned structures came down in minutes around 11 p.m. April 1, with little fanfare other than an advance notice to residents by East Rutherford police.

But the event was significant in the long-winding history of the planned retail and entertainment complex, which aims to revive the failed Xanadu project.

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