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GRAPEVINE: Budget stalemate already a foregone conclusion — for now

In the last few weeks, legislative Democrats have spent a lot of their time and energy on crafting an alternative budget remedy to Gov. Chris Christie's plan to cut next year's scheduled $2.25 billion pension payment down to $681 million.

Among other things, they're proposing a millionaire's tax and a corporate business tax.

Business groups hate it. Democrats say they've been left with no other alternative and gutting the pension system any further is just not an option.

But, at least for the near future, it's a lot of hot air. Everyone in Trenton already knows Christie is going to veto the Democrats' spending plan without even the slightest hesitation.

“We all know he's going to get it and send it back,” said one insider prior to last Thursday's budget deliberations.

So why continue? Some of it is politics and posturing, for sure. But a court ruling handed down last week by a state Superior Court judge in Christie's favor may actually present a challenge to him later down the road.

Judge Mary Jacobsen ruled that Christie could indeed reduce the current fiscal year's scheduled pension payment by about $900 million in order to compensate for a massive revenue shortfall. But Jacobsen was clear in her words that the ruling's impact was immediate and not applicable to next year's fiscal year, when Christie wants to do the same exact thing.

So, there's a good chance everyone will end up right back in front of Jacobsen.

But don't expect Christie to budge anytime soon.

“He made it pretty clear,” the source said. “He's not increasing taxes.”

Suspending development fee is no longer a sure bet

A bill that would again suspend a fee on commercial development projects in New Jersey (the fee would be used to fund affordable housing), is making its way through the Legislature. To most, there is little doubt that it will end up with Gov. Chris Christie's signature.

Not so fast, said one source.

At a recent closed-door, invitation-only meeting with real estate executives, Christie said he would veto the bill, “because it will then force the Legislature to deal with this issue,” the source recalled. It was ostensibly a reference to the fact that the fee has been suspended twice — but only in two-year increments — since it was enacted in 2008.

It was unclear if it was simply an off-the-cuff bluster by the governor or an actual promise, but the person said it wouldn't have the intended effect if Christie kept his word.

“It won't force the Legislature to do anything,” the insider said.

The 2.5 percent fee, aimed at spurring development in a sluggish economy, has been reviled by developers as a huge deterrent to new construction, prompting the two statutory moratoriums totaling four years.

The last moratorium, however, expired last July.

The most recent proposal would suspend the fee for development projects going back to last July and would last until the end of this year.

Christie's comment on the bill was the most noteworthy takeaway from the meeting with more than 100 real estate executives, held in early June at the Mountain Ridge Country Club in West Orange, the source said.

Grapevine reports on the behind-the-scenes buzz in the business community. Contact Editor Tom Bergeron at tomb@njbiz.com.

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