Thursday, January 19, 2012

Christie See, Christie Do

With apologies to monkeys everywhere.

So it seems as though Chris Christie is channeling his inner Christie Whitman with his proposal to cut New Jersey income taxes by 10% across the board. We know how well Whitman's 30% tax cut worked out. New Jersey borrowed massive amounts of money to pay for pensions and government projects, which led even lesser governors to stop paying into the public employee's pension system, which resulted in the underfunded system becoming the state's unofficial bird, the Albatross, when the economy bottomed out in 2009. I wish the rest was history, but unfortunately it's become the present and future for hard-working middle class public employees across the state.

Now the big question is, where are are the cuts going to come from? Once the income tax reductions are factored in, the state will lose $1 billion dollars in income. The obvious target will be public schools, because starving the system will weaken the NJEA. Plus, if the state moves to an evaluation-based merit pay scale, then salary guides will become a thing of the past and teachers will compete amongst themselves for scarce resources while districts start cutting experienced workers (who won't have fair dismissal protections) in the name of cost savings. A few teachers will make big raises and get copious press, while the rest will have raises held hostage because their student's standardized test scores will fall outside the "outstanding" range.

There are other places to cut as well. Aid to municipalities can go down so they can make unpopular cuts to local programs without the governor having to take responsibility for them. With a 2% cap, most towns will not be able to raise money to sustain services. Programs for the poor, the indigent, health services, child care and nutrition are always juicy targets.

It's now up to the dynamic duo of  Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and Senate President Steve Sweeney to stand up to Christie to move their agenda. They caved in last spring on, in order, the pension and benefits bill and the state budget while managing to wrangle absolutely nothing for their side. They didn't even attempt to bargain on the benefits bill by holding up the governor's budget priorities. This wasn't just a cave, it was their own personal Lascoux, but the only animals on the walls were jackasses.

This time around, the Democrats need to have something that resembles a strategy. If the governor wants to hand wealthy citizens a $7,000 payout and the rest of us about $100 per year in return for fewer services, then they need to make a stand. That means enacting a gay marriage bill, making sure schools are fully funded, expanding mass transit to reduce traffic, and enabling towns and cities to provide services for those caught in the recession's grip.

I'm sure Christie is angling not just for reelection but, barring a Romney win in November, also a run for the presidency in 2016, so tax cutting must be on his resume. He's an effective politician; we need to give him that due, but Democrats in the legislature need to represent their constituencies too, and that means having a backbone when it comes to fighting for what's right.

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