New Jersey Governor Chris Christie wasted no time yesterday in vetoing two tax increases passed by the Democratic legislature. Christie signed his disapproval of the measures reinstating an expired surcharge on "millionaires" almost before the ink was even dry on their pages. Video here.
State Senate President Steve Sweeney, who is also a private sector union boss, let his thuggish ways show just a bit after Christie rejected the bills. Sweeney taunted the governor from the back of the room. "We'll be back, Governor."
Christie dismissed him, "Okay. We'll see," he said.
This little bit of political theater comes in the midst of a raging budget battle in the Garden State. Christie, acting on a campaign pledge, has refused to accept any tax increases to close a nearly $11 billion budget deficit. In case that number is not shocking enough, consider that the entire budget of the state is just under $30 billion.
The so-called "millionaire's tax" is actually a surcharge on individuals earning over $400,000 a year. The tax expired on December 31, 2009, two months after Christie defeated former governor Jon Corzine. Corzine and his fellow Democrats did not make the expiring tax an issue in the fall campaign. Nor did they attempt to extend the tax in either the lame-duck session of the legislature or in the first two weeks of the new session, during which time Corzine remained governor and would certainly have signed it.
Democrats are reintroducing the tax now simply to try and make Christie look like a heartless protector of the "rich" at the expense of the middle class and the poor. They know it. Christie knows it.
But Christie doesn't care.
Here's what the governor had to say about the Democrats' tax increase:
"While I have little doubt that the sponsors and supporters of this bill sincerely believe that the state can tax its way out of this financial crisis, I believe that this bill does nothing more than repeat the failed, irresponsible and unsustainable fiscal policies of the past," wrote Christie in his veto statement. "Now is not the time for more of the same. Ultimately, another tax increase will punish the state’s struggling small businesses and set our economy further back from recovery."
Christie knows that the people of New Jersey are on his side. Just last month, voters in record numbers heeded his call to vote down their local school budgets, rejecting a record 60% of school district spending plans statewide. They did this despite an ugly and desperate campaign by the NJEA - the state teacher's union - and the predictable caturwalling of Democrats. Anyone remotely familiar with New Jersey politics knows just what a momentous occurance this was. New Jersey teacher's unions have never been publicly rebuked like this.
Now the public sector unions have stepped up for their turn, and Democrats in the state legislature are right there to carry their water. Sweeney will make good on his promise. Democrats will be back with their tax increase. But in the end, Governor Christie will get his budget largely intact.
The rules of the game have changed in Trenton. The old ways of doing business are no longer operative. It may take a few more public shamings, but Democrats will soon come to realize that in New Jersey there is only one rule to follow: Don't mess with Christie.