Chris Christie was voted Governor of New Jersey in 2009 and inherited a mess from Democratic predecessor Jon Corzine and a succession of Democrats. Since taking office, he has made very few friends among the traditional power bases in the State. He has taken head-on the teacher’s union (the NJEA), public workers unions like AFSCME and the CWA, and local municipalities to name but a few. He has endured media blitzes funded by the unions, veiled Facebook death wishes, protest marches on Trenton, and attacks on his rather large, robust personal appearance.
Yet, in the months since his inauguration, he has presented an austere budget (the source of all the wrath) in response to a projected $11 billion budget deficit. He did so without the smoke and mirrors accounting methods of previous administrations, both Democratic and Republican. He has offered up a reform package of bills to correct the structural problems in the whole fiscal process in New Jersey, especially those designed to reign in costs. According to the Governor’s website, for example, property taxes have increased 70% in the past decade alone. State spending has increased 50% in the same period while local spending has increased 69%. New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the country averaging over $7,200 per household. His solution is a mandatory 2.5% maximum increase in taxes and state spending per year. Only voter approval could overcome that cap. Today New Jersey law mandates a maximum 4% increase, but the law is so full of loopholes with the ultimate decision not decided by the tax paying electorate, but an appointed State commission. Is empowering tax payers, especially those at the local level, a losing proposition in a democracy founded on objections to excessive taxation?
In five short months, true to his campaign promise, Christie has taken on the fiscal problems facing the choice and disrupting the powerful special interests in Trenton. His first order of business was to declare a financial state of emergency thus allowing him to freeze wages and spending which was on Corzine’sbudget. As a result, in response to a projected decrease in revenue, he predicted that the wage and spending freeze produced enough savings to minimize the projected decrease in revenue.
Looking at Christie in action is like a study in stark contrast with Barack Obama. While the President was assembling a team of expert academics to determine whose “ass to kick” in the Gulf oil spill crisis, Christie was actually kicking ass– namely that of the politically entrenched NJEA. Four cases in point: (1) almost 60% of school budgets were resoundingly defeated by the voters in May delivering a blow to the teacher’s union. As Christie noted, if they had won, the voters would not have defeated as many budgets- the most since 1976. (2) He publicly turned the tables on the NJEA by offering restoration of funding if they agreed to a 1-year pay freeze and contributing 1.5% of their salaries to health care benefits (most pay nothing). About 25 of the State’s 570 school districts agreed. This revealed the NJEA as shrill- working not for the children their $300,000 per week anti-Christie commercial blitz argued, but for themselves. (3) He has publicly chastised his Education Secretary, Brett Schundler, for working out a deal with the NJEA for a federal Race to the Top grant. The deal and proposal did not meet Christie’s definition of “merit pay” or “tenure reform.” Schundler subsequently apologized publicly for “going rogue.” The proposed application was rewritten at Christie’s instructions and went to Washington without the backing of the NJEA. Meanwhile, Obama cannot answer a question as to whether a member of his administration resigned or got fired. (4) After witnessing the fight between Christie and the NJEA- the State’s strongest union- other public worker’s unions in the state are now suddenly less vocal. In response to budget cuts, many of these unions have suddenly sought to renegotiate contracts in order to save jobs, but giving into benefit and pension reform- the primary drivers of spending increases at the State and local level.
While Obama nuances the definition of the word “tax,” Christie has been crystal clear. Remember Obama’s pledge that he would not increase taxes on those making more than $250,000? Maybe not income taxes per se, but many of his policies from Obamacare to cap-and-trade would, in effect, raise taxes on everyone indirectly if not directly. In responseto the proposed budget cuts in Trenton, the Democratic leadership grandstanded by enacting a one year extension of the so-called “millionaire’s tax.” Incidentally, only in the convoluted world of Trenton Democratic politics is a “millionaire” defined as household income in excess of $400,000. A $400 Ker, yes, but a “millionaire?” It took Christie all of two minutes to veto the bill following through on his campaign pledge not to raise taxes on anyone. While the Democrats and their union supporters tried to portray Christie as being for the rich, thus once again engaging in textbook class warfare guerilla tactics and propaganda, Christie cited the number of times taxes have been increased on New Jersey residents in the past decade and the fact that more than $70 billion in capital has fled the State in the same time period. Christie did not need the advice of a team of academic experts to connect the dots on these facts. Not only did they not get their tax increase, but the Democratic Party looked like nothing more than a pawn of the entrenched unions, especially the NJEA who had already suffered some bruising blows and setbacks.
Where Christie really differs from Obama and the Democrats is his willingness to actually confront and explain himself to his opponents. During the health care debates in Congress, many Democrats avoided district town hall meetings filled with disillusioned, angry voters and tax payers looking for answers to legitimate questions. These people were portrayed as Republican activists or worse, “those tea party people.” Three months after its “passage,” Democrats have launched a $125 million public relations blitz in support of a law they already passed- something practically unheard of in politics. Add to this the vast sums of money from special interest groups in support of Obamacare and the situation could only be described as ludicrous and a bit amusing. Obama himself usually appears in friendly Democratic territory to make teleprompted speeches. Even in some of these”friendly” areas, his very own Democratic allies suddenly find themselves too busy to make an appearance with their leader. Many proposed town hall meetings for the upcoming summer have been cancelled this year because Democrats fear legitimate anger being erxpressed by their constituents. Obama waxes sentimental stating he would rather be a great one term President than a mediocre two-term President (he’s neither).
In contrast, the very next day after his budget address and during the uproar over education cuts, where did Christie appear? At a high school in a Democratic stronghold of New Jersey. Unlike Obama, Christie has stated that if New Jerseyans don’t like his policies or job performance, they can vote him out in 2013. But until then, he is going to do the job he was elected to do and keep his campaign promises in word and spirit. How refreshing that is compared to the hot air coming off Obama’s lips! And unlike Obama, Christie’s “friends” are not of the fair weather kind. His appearance is very much in demand.
Obama’s approach to every major foreign and domestic policy issue is to appoint some czar to oversee the policy, or its coordination. Christie made the uninque decision- and most cost effective one- to name his Lieutenant Governor his Secretary of State. Obama’s approach is nuanced and academic while Christie is straighforward, blunt and truthful. That is because Christie is more principled in his policies, his beliefs, his approach and his implementation of policies. He has stated that he would be responsible for his administration- both the good and the bad. And I cannot recall one instance where Christie has called out Jon Corzine, his Democratic predecessor, by name as a reason for the State’s fiscal problems. Yet on the national level, how many times have we heard the name George Bush off the lips of the Democrats as a reason for every problem in America? It has gotten so bad in that area that even the break-up of Al and Tipper Gore are being blamed on Bush.
Nowhere is conviction of principle more better exemplified than Obama’s response to the Gulf oil spill. It took Matt Lauer of all people to elicit that now infamous “ass to kick” statement out of Obama. It was neither authentic nor convincing. Conversely, Chrstie’s now famous smackdown of a teacher in northern New Jersey was both authentic and convincing. And that only occurs when one is true to their word and their priciples. While Christie has proposed radical structural changes to how the government operates and to the out-of-whack with reality public employee pension and health benefits programs, Obama embraces an economic policy best left for the public adoration of the likes of Paul Krugman and company. Just as one need look no further than California to see how a welfare state cracks under its own fiscal pressures, New Jersey was fast becoming the California of the East Coast. At the very least, Christie put the brakes on that and somewhat stabilized the situation (in five short months). Obama has the example, on the national stage, of Greece and possibly Ireland, Portugal and Spain (and possibly Great Britain also). Where Christie sees the dangers involved and acts to avoid it, Obama plunges headlong into fiscal insanity ignorant of the reality. Either Obama is unprincipled or he practices the wrong principles. And guess what? Even Democratic leaders in the State of New Jersey are starting to respect Christie if not for his policies, then certainly for his principles. At the end of four years, will Barack Obama be able to say the same?