Sam Uretsky

Future is New Jersey

We’ve seen the future, and it’s New Jersey. Keep in mind that Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, is pretty much a generic Republican, not an off-the-wall wing-nut. Gov. Christie is what we can all look forward to if Democrats don’t get out in force for the election.

First, some history. In 1994, Christine Todd “Christie” Whitman was elected governor of New Jersey by promising to lower state taxes. She achieved that by skipping the state’s contribution to employee pension plans, and as long as the stock market kept going up, things were fine. When the market went down, New Jersey was in a hole, and Governor Whitman was in Washington as President Bush’s EPA administrator. Subsequent governors struggled with the budget with minimal success. Gov. Christie solved the problem by attacking the Teacher’s Union.

When the Obama administration offered Race to the Top grants for states developing their education programs based on selected criteria, New Jersey’s Education Commissioner, Brent Schundler, met with union officials, and worked out a compromise that would have placed the state well within the list of winners, with a $400 million grant. Gov. Christie rejected the compromise. Actually, the union had given in on every point but one. but because of an error on Mr. Schundler’s part, the state finished 11th in a field of 10. Had the compromise been accepted, New Jersey would have finished in the money even with the error. Mr. Schundler subsequently testified that when he brought the compromise proposal to Mr. Christie, the Governor said “that he was not going through the fire with all of their attacks on him merely to cave in to the union. And he said that emphatically and for a rather extended period of time.”

More recently, Mr. Christie has canceled a tunnel under the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York. The tunnel was the largest infrastructure project planned in the United States, and would provide thousands of high paying construction jobs for the region. By improving public transportation between the states, the tunnel would reduce automobile congestion, which is quite severe — making New Jersey more inhabitable for people who work in New York, which might improve property values. There is currently one railroad tunnel between the states, dating back over 100 years, to when New Jersey really was the Garden State. The tunnel has been in planning stages for 20 years, and cancellation means immediate layoffs for people whose jobs depended on the project, but Mr. Christie is concerned that there will be future cost over-runs that New Jersey would have to pay for. He refuses to raise the state’s tax on gasoline, although that’s one of the lowest in the country and has been unchanged for about 20 years. This decision will cost New Jersey billions of dollars pledged by the Federal government and the Port of New York Authority.

Mr. Christie talks about future costs, without considering future benefits. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation, and in desperate need of improved public transportation to reduce congested roads. Mr. Christie apparently thinks he can get his hands on the Port Authority billions to use for road repair, but that depends on the cooperation of the Governor of New York agreeing, which seems unlikely.

So far, Mr. Christie’s ego has cost his state thousands of jobs, billions in funding, and major quality of life improvements. His attacks on the teacher’s union may make New Jersey a less desirable place for teachers to look for jobs. In effect, Mr. Christie has become the poster child for Republican policies, and has been invited to Iowa and California to endorse candidates who share his values.

New Jersey has a large margin in Democratic voter registrations, but things were bad, and Democrats may have sat out the election, or cast a protest vote against then-Gov. Corzine. Some may even have thought that Gov. Christie knew some secret for fixing everything when all he had was an inflated ego and a lack of understanding of economics. Let this be a warning to us: As bad as it is, it could be New Jersey.

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y. Email

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2010

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