Tomorrow Governor Christie will present his budget message which will emphasize his ideology of cuts over our economy’s need for repair. By calling for further income tax decreases, he sets up a cycle of continuing low state revenue which justifies ongoing cuts and achieves the ultimate ideological goal of much smaller government. The early indications are his budget will be too harsh, endanger our recovery, slash holes in our safety net, and try to solve in the present what is a serious but manageable medium-term problem.
HARSH – In addition to his push for lower taxes, there is talk about a draconian approach toward civil service reform, public sector pension and benefit changes, Medicaid cuts, closing Hagedorn Psychiatric Hospital and much more.
ENDANGER OUR RECOVERY – The “slash and burn budget approach,” typified by Governor Christie is bad policy as it weakens our economy at the very point that recovery shoots are starting to sprout. NJ unemployment is down, the stock market is up, and there is GDP growth, but housing starts remain weak, the unemployment too high, and demand too low – in effect our economy remains fragile. With selective stimulus, increased tax for the wealthiest, and aid to businesses our economy can continue to grow. Otherwise stagnation, infrastructure disrepair, low state income and a downward spiral will rule the scene. His grandiose disdain for many Back to Work legislative bills shows his lack of concern for jobs and the economy.
SLASH HOLES IN OUR SAFETY NET – There is no sign that Christie seeks to repair the havoc he wreaked in last year’s budget by slashing aid for education, municipalities, libraries, public transit, family planning, NJN and much more. Some cuts like family planning and his meddling with medical marijuana reflect his social ideology, while others like public transit speak to his lack of concern for people with less income. This year he is taking aim at Medicaid which will only reduce quality and quantity of healthcare for those who can afford it least, while simultaneously increasing the state’s cost for uncompensated care.
SOLVE A MEDIUM TERM PROBLEM IN THE PRESENT – With some indications of a continuing small increase in state tax revenue this year, there comes the ability to reduce pressure on the state’s general budget brake pedal. The more serious problems regarding pension, healthcare benefits, transportation fund, and unemployment fund took years to develop and are not going to be solved overnight. Both the governor and the legislature agree there need to be reforms but severe immediate cuts are not the solution. Rather both branches of government need to work together to create a credible medium-term plan that reduces these deficits while supporting employment, business opportunities, infrastructure repair and the safety net. Last year the legislature surrendered the agenda to the governor, but this year the legislature must show more initiative and reassert its dual partnership role.