Christie’s Summer of Self-Promotion

I probably couldn’t have said it better than the title of the piece by Josh Zeitz at the Atlantic which I used as the title of this diary. Zeitz started by describing the Christie narrative:

The Jersey Comeback story goes something like this: Having inherited a state on the brink of bankruptcy, Christie cut state spending; held the line on taxes; fixed the state’s unfunded pension liability; and took on the vested interests that have so long made Trenton a den of dysfunction. In short, tough-guy Christie took a bat to the bad guys and saved hard-working taxpayers from economic ruin.

Christie tells this story not only at his taxpayer funded rallies he calls town hall meetings, but also at stops around the country building his own profile under the guise of helping other Republicans. Zeitz continued:

It’s a great story, made more powerful by an unpopular foil (Jon Corzine) and a deferential national press corps. It also happens to be completely untrue. Christie certainly brings an unusual disposition to the governor’s office. But in every other way, he has proven just as unwilling (or unable) as his predecessors to confront the structural barriers to meaningful reform. And that is the real tragedy of his governorship.

Follow me below the fold as Zeitz dispels many of the myths of the Christie show by injecting some facts into the discussion.

He began looking at Christie’s so-called budget cuts:

Myth 1: Budget cuts. Christie claims to have cut spending. He has not. Jon Corzine’s last budget came in at $28.84 billion (it was originally appropriated at $28.9 billion, but mid-cycle cuts made by both governors brought down spending by roughly $100 million). The 2013 budget, which Christie signed into law last month, is $31.7 billion. In fact, all three of Christie’s budgets have been larger than Corzine’s last one.

Then he moved onto the shell game that the Governor is playing with property taxes by cutting programs that force increases by other levels of government:

Myth 2: Tax cuts. Christie consistently claims that he held the line on taxes. But under Christie, the average net property tax bill has increased by 20 percent, largely because of the governor’s deep cuts to the state’s direct rebate program. At the same time, the state sales and income tax rates remain fixed at precisely the same levels as under Corzine.

And then he turned to the state pension funds, which the Governor has used to beat up on public workers and score political points while failing to actually live up to his own payment obligations:

Myth 3: Unfunded pension liabilities. Christie enacted important reforms that increased both the rate of employee contributions and the age at which government workers may collect their full pensions. But he imitated prior governors by drastically under-paying the state’s actuarially required contribution (ARC) to the pension fund. Over four years, the Corzine administration underfunded the system by $6.4 billion. In just three years, Christie has underfunded it by roughly $8.2 billion. And he still has a year left to go. True, Christie enacted new legislation making it impossible for future governors to short the ARC. But that law doesn’t come into full effect until the end of the next gubernatorial term. That’s called kicking the can down the road.

Zeitz goes much deeper into the structural problems facing our state which the Governor conveniently ignores because they don’t fit into his narrative:

Though he has skillfully cultivated a reputation for confronting tough problems, Christie has proven just as unwilling as his predecessors to unravel the thick web of local government that makes the state such a frustrating place to live.

New Jersey has 21 counties, 565 municipalities, 603 school districts, and countless other units of government, each with its own taxing and spending authority. Because the delivery of services is so decentralized, New Jersey residents pay a heavy property tax burden at the local level to fund a highly inefficient and redundant system.

The whole piece is worth a read, though I doubt the Governor will read it as he continues his self promotion tour on the West Coast out of New Jersey once again.

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