Thursday, July 24, 2014

Christie: If You Want Pain, I'm Your Man

Yes, we have seen this before.

If there was any doubt that Governor Chris Christie wants to be president, let the dispelling commence. His full-throated diatribe against public worker pensions and benefits today marks the moment when he unofficially officially began his run. And if anyone thinks he's a moderate, sensible Republican, then that person is seriously fooling himself.

As opposed to 2011, when Christie was able to use his alliances with key Democrats to get a pension and benefits bill through the legislature, this attempt at making not only current workers but also retirees pay more for their retirements will be a far more difficult sell. The New Jersey Education Association has recovered from its lackluster response three years ago and is now ready to properly defend itself and its members. Representatives of the police and firefighters were protesting outside the hall where Christie was speaking in Belmar, and it's never a good idea to present yourself as a healer and unifying force when the people who fight fires, protect and educate the public are behind the barricades. Christie can make the argument that the 2011 reform was necessary, but this time it has "appeal to the right-wing" written all over it.

From an economic viewpoint, taking more money out of the pockets of middle and working class people makes little sense. Less money means less spending. Less spending means slower growth. What the state's economy needs is an infusion of money to stimulate spending and investment. Remember that only Illinois stands between New Jersey and the terrible 50th ranking on the economic growth charts. This is hardly the economy Christie wants to run on in 2016. There's no New Jersey Miracle; the only miracle is that Christie thinks he's doing a good job.

Christie apparently has not learned the lesson of Mitt Romney's run in 2012, because his plan protects the wealthy from any kind of pain. Christie's argument has always been that if the state raises taxes on the wealthy, that they will then leave the state and take their money with them. Never mind that there's little statistical evidence of that happening. In fact, in New York, more working class people left than wealthy people when taxes went up.

Christie's math must then assume that middle class residents will not be able to leave the state because, with their houses under water literally and figuratively, they'll be stuck. The workers pay more so that the wealthy can stay. That's been his position ever since he became governor and that's going to be his downfall.

What complicates Christie's position even further is that the New Jersey Pension system is seeing larger than expected gains because of the rise in the stock market. While this will not last, it supports the Democrats' arguments that if Christie had only authorized full state pension payments since the reform law was passed, then there would be even less of a shortfall. But the Republican argument since the economic crash of 2008 is that the country needs radical fiscal restructuring on taxes and the debt. A growing economy works against them because it means a lower deficit and more money in people's pockets. GOP scare tactics don't work when consumers feel better.

In the end, my sense is that this proposal is dead on arrival at the Democratic legislature's door, but I've been wrong before. This sounds like a campaign platform pure and simple, and one that will not only not solve the problem, it will make it worse. If the GOP-controlled House of Representatives has taught us anything, it's that supply side economics is alive and well in the country and is holding back the recovery. Electing Christie would be a disaster for the middle and working classes.

Let the campaign begin.

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