JULY 7, 2010
The man I love
Think of New Jersey and what comes to mind? Yup. High property taxes. That could change if Governor Chris Christie gets his way. And from the looks of it, he just might. He signed into law last week that state's smallest budget in five years. He didn't blink when confronted by a Democratic legislature and made major cuts to schools, municipalities and mass transit. And, get this. His plan closes an $11 billion deficit without raising taxes. (Are you listening, Jan Brewer?)
"We did it because we stuck by our principles," Christie told Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal in an interview last week. He reduced spending 9 percent from last year's budget by spreading the pain evenly. Every single department in state government got a cut. He killed the tax increase that the Democrats tried to enact.
The unthinkable happened when New Jersey elected a Republican governor who told voters up front that he intended to chop spending. Since taking office in January, Christie has hit the ground running. "We have to change the way the system operates," he claims. Right now, New Jersey has a deficit in their pension system of about $50 billion. Since he knows the state will never have enough money to pay that $50 billion debt, he intends to work this fall on bending the benefit curve.
Gov. Christie called the legislature into special session to consider his proposal of a 2.5 percent annual cap on increases in property taxes. New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the nation. Christie wants a permanent constitutional cap with only two exceptions: debt service and voter override. (I'm not wild about that voter override, since PR campaigns can make a project sound too good to turn down.)
This is a man who is the straight talker that U.S. Senator John McCain has always professed to be. If you want to hear a politician "tell it like it is," just tune in to his press conferences and forums on YouTube. "No one will ever have to wonder where I stand on an issue," he promises. One of my favorite clips is a confrontation with teacher Rita Wilson who feels she deserves over $83,000 a year in salary for her educational costs and experience. The audience applauded when he told her she knew the salary going in and didn't have to continue teaching if she isn't happy with what the state pays her.
In fact, Christie's biggest fights are with the powerful state teachers' union. Since March 17, they have spent over $7 million in mandatory union dues money to blanket the state with ads telling him to "stop hurting the people our families rely on the most." And they have asked for an increase in teachers' dues, just to run more ads against the governor. "Maybe they should get to the real world where 55 percent of Americans during this recession have either lost their jobs or had their pay cut," he responds.
Just so there is no confusion, Christie clarifies that he loved his public school teachers, as do most folks. But they don't love teachers' unions, because they have been unwilling to be part of the shared sacrifice. If teachers would agree to a pay freeze for just one year, they could avoid layoffs and program cuts. But they refused.
Another target of Christie's veto pen was the Millionaires' Tax that the Democrats wanted to reinstate, claiming that rich people could afford a tax increase. But Christie counters with a study by Boston College that showed between 2004 and 2008, $70 billion in wealth left the state for lower tax states like Florida, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.
During his gubernatorial campaign, his opposition made fun of his girth with reference to Christie "throwing his weight around." I for one am glad to see him do it and wish him success. He's giving it his all. Win or lose, he tells his detractors: "The people voted me in, and you're stuck with me for the next four years." Sounds like a fun ride.