Today's New York Times focuses on the GOP flavor-of-the-month, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, and gets past the bombast to the actual record:
Yet his agenda of balancing the budget, rescuing a pension fund that could go broke within a decade and curtailing rising property taxes — the holy grail of politics in his heavily suburban state — is far from achieved. And he still could face the wrath of voters who discover that the costs of government have merely been shifted onto their local tax bills.
“People have heard the tough talk, but they haven’t felt the full effect of what he’s done,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “That may happen in the next year. And voters tell us that if their property taxes don’t go down, they will hold him responsible.”
In his first year, Governor Christie closed a yawning budget deficit that he estimated at almost $11 billion, though in part by skipping a $3 billion payment to the pension system. At $29.4 billion, spending is down more than $5 billion from its peak two years earlier.
In proposing his budget on Tuesday, the governor is expected to call for more cuts to close another huge deficit. With major union contracts set to expire in June, he is calling for a wage freeze, which polls show the public supports.
But the state will still be deeply in debt, and facing a growing shortfall in its pension fund — $54 billion and counting — that helped spur a downgrade of the state’s bonds.
Mr. Christie’s record has not been unblemished. He botched an application for $400 million in federal education money at a time when he was cutting twice that amount.
And in December, Mr. Christie was at Disney World during a blizzard that paralyzed the state. He refused to apologize, saying he had kept in touch with the acting governor, Mr. Sweeney — but Mr. Sweeney said they never spoke.
Yet such gaffes have not transcended the state’s borders, while Mr. Christie’s YouTube rants against teachers and their union leaders have become widespread. Mr. Christie is less popular in New Jersey than with national Republicans: polls show that only about 50 percent of residents approve of his performance.
Where his poll numbers head now may depend on whether Mr. Christie can begin to show success in solving seemingly intractable problems like high property taxes before voters start to hold him responsible.
“When you cut billions of dollars from local government, you can’t turn around and say ‘It’s the mayor’s fault’ — you’re the one who did it,” Mr. Sweeney said. “In Chris Christie’s New Jersey, class sizes are going up, and crime is going through the roof in our inner cities. Eventually, people are going to realize, ‘I’m paying a lot more now, and I have a lot less.’ The people have not realized it yet. But he’s the governor, and the music’s going to stop.”
The question is what this state will look like by the time he gets done with it, and people realize that the reason for a good chunk of his spending cuts is that he has continued the noble tradition started by that OTHER Christie, Christine Todd Whitman, of stiffing the state pension fund for other purposes. In Whitman's case it was for income tax cuts, from which the pension fund has never recovered, and in Christie's case it's for cooking the books.
Last week I hired an appraiser for the purpose of a property tax appeal. The value of my house has dropped over $100,000 since the last town revaluation in 2005. I'm not upset about that; after all, in no sane universe is a dormered Cape Cod with a 1970's kitchen and an original black-and-mint-green 1950's bathroom worth almost a half-million dollars. But the taxes on my little POS in one of the less prestigious towns in the county are upwards of $8000 a year -- and that's lower than many surrounding towns, where taxes on a house like mine can run into the five figures. This is just insane, and it's going to get even MORE insane when the full brunt of Christie's budgets start to hit municipalities. Because anyone familiar with local governments in New Jersey knows that no matter what the political affiliation of those running the town, it's all about cronyism, patronage, and no-bid contracts.
My town, which saw the first contested election in thirty years back in 2009, proceeded to elect the same people who had been on the council for that whole time -- and is now outraged that they're doing exactly what they've done for decades -- spend like drunken sailors, hire their friends for no-show municipal jobs, and give contracts to their friends. One councilman is attempting to have himself also named the town attorney so that he can get taxpayer-paid health insurance for his family. The school district is about to spend $3 million on enhancements to the high school football field. When you shift expenses and taxes to towns, and these towns elect corrupt people because there are no options on the ballot, you aren't addressing the biggest problem about which people complain.
If you read the comments section in this article, you'll see that all the Christie Love is coming from outside of New Jersey. Here, where we're actually SEEING what these policies do, it's a different story:
The people in my very Republican town are furious with him for what he is doing to our school district. He decided that he had to reduce the state funding of education, but rather than deciding on a district-by-district basis what cuts should be made, he simply chopped the state funds provided to districts across the board as a fixed percentage of their general operating budgets. This reduction did not take into account whether districts had been spending way below the state average per pupil or way above. My district had always managed its finances well and spent well under the average, while maintaining an exceptionally high-quality program. For that we were rewarded by having 82% of our already small state funding yanked from us. To add to the problem, he also reduced the amount by which local taxes could be raised. There is no way to make up the shortfall, and we are now being forced to make very painful program cuts.
What I would have wanted from this governor would have been a far more nuanced approach to the education cuts. He is, however, all about bluster and bullying, but deep thought about the fairness and impact of his actions escapes him. He is like a blindfolded man with a chainsaw who is trying to trim the shrubs - loud, unseeing, dangerous, and indiscriminate.
I'll close with the words of one of those demonized state workers, who nails it on where residents SHOULD be pointing their fingers:
I am a NJ state worker and have been for more than 25 years. I have consistently cared about my work and about doing a good job. I have never lost sight of the fact that as a public sector worker I am responsible to my fellow citizens and to the consumers of my agency's services. I am at this moment in time solidly middle class and do not live lavishly in any way.
I am watching with alarm what's going on in our country, something that's been going on for a while now, and that's the systematic turning of people's minds against workers like me, as if our salaries will destroy our neighbors' futures. This is the result of a frighteningly effective information campaign launched against public sector workers in every state in the union, so successful that it has caused people to totally forget about who the real destroyers are -- the bankers who, through a diabolical criminal conspiracy, took the hundreds of billions of dollars out of all of our pockets and laughed as they did it, and laughed as they gave themselves bonuses to celebrate their success.
Folks, it's not your own working neighbors who have set about dismantling the security that was once inherent in our way of life -- go see the film "Inside Job" and read Matt Taibbi's article in the current issue of Rolling Stone magazine. There are obscenely wealthy criminals out there who deserve prosecution (although there are perhaps no prosecutors left who can or will take them on), but your neighbors who pay taxes and mortgages, and who shop in local stores and dine at local restaurants and get their cars repaired in local garages -- your neighbors are not the problem. Please seriously consider rejecting the manipulations of the politicians who are doing the work of the wealthy ones who don't want you to notice that they took all the money away from all of us.