BEYOND THE NUMBERS
New Jersey, which already comes up short in budget planning and budget transparency, is falling even further behind.
The state Treasury Department recently stopped publishing monthly comparisons of actual tax collections to projected collections — information that the state’s revenue status reports had included for years. The timing is especially unfortunate given New Jersey’s recent large revenue shortfalls. Delaying acknowledgement of sluggish revenue collections will give policymakers less time to address the problem if these shortfalls continue.
The state has also stopped publishing town-by-town data on state property tax rebates in its annual reports on property tax collections and has removed prior-year reports from its website. This makes it very difficult to see how state and local policies affect property tax bills across the state. The state Assembly recently passed, with near unanimous support, a bill requiring publication of the data. But the bill needs state Senate approval plus the governor’s signature to become law, and Governor Chris Christie hasn’t said if he will sign it.
New Jersey had plenty of room for improvement even before these changes. It received the in our survey of how well states use ten proven budget planning tools to chart their fiscal course accurately and make mid-course corrections when needed. It also fared poorly (30th out of 50) in the U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s latest ranking of state budget transparency.
New Jersey should stop digging this hole deeper and resume publication of data that can help the state plan. And the state should go even further — by including long-term revenue and spending forecasts in its annual budget, building more consensus into its revenue estimating process, and providing more information on the cost of individual “tax expenditures” (tax credits, deductions, and exemptions), for example.
Better budget planning and more transparency would help New Jersey policymakers make more-informed decisions.