“Today, we begin doing what we promised we would do. The defenders of the status quo have already begun to yell and scream. They will try to demonize me. They will seek to divide us rather than unite us. But even they know in their hearts, if not yet in their minds it is time for a change.”
That is how New Jersey Governor Chris Christie introduced his first annual budget message to the state legislature.
In its entirety, the stated goals and planned path to prosperity in his proposed budget, stunned me as he spoke in words that I never thought we would hear come out of a politicians mouth. As such, I found myself, for the first time, proud of a New Jersey Governor and even more surprising, proud of the the kind of Republican New Jersey has leading us.
In both the tone and content, Chris Christie’s speech was a shock to the political establishment that is certain to make him public enemy number one of special interest groups and the political class which feeds from the trough of special interests.
After confirming that New Jersey is both the highest taxed state in the nation and the state with the highest budget deficit in the nation, Christie hammered home the fact that high taxes are obviously not solving any problems. In making this point, the freshman governor proceeded to unveil an in depth analysis of the problems that brought the Garden State to one of its lowest points in history and the way in which he intends to turn it around. His budget speech revealed a plan that did not use a scalpel to finesse the financial ruin that New Jersey lies in. Instead he proved to be pulling out not just an axe, but rather a budgetary blowtorch that will scorch the earth that political excess, government waste, abuse, and out of control government growth, stands on.
Chris Christie’s budget slashing plan has no sacred cows and it contains no partisan focus, for even his own Party was called out when he accused both Republicans and Democrats of steeling $4.7 billion from the trust fund that was set up for state unemployment insurance benefits but spent for other purposes.
From there, Governor Christie proceeded to not just touch all of the third rails in politics, he grabbed them with both hands and ripped them from their deeply rooted foundations.
With the use of a very timely analogy, Christie told New Jerseyans and their legislative representatives;
“We have the worst unemployment in the region and the highest taxes in America, and that’s no coincidence. Is the way to fix that problem to make our taxes even higher? This has been their prescription for the last ten years and the job market in New Jersey is near death”
“You changed doctors in November for this very reason now it is time to change medicine, too. Off the temporary high that comes from higher taxes and greater spending. Back to the hard, difficult medicine of fiscal discipline, lower spending and less debt which in your heart you know will lead to the greater long term health of our state.”
Where he powerfully discussed generalities, Christie made it clear that there was a new sheriff in town and that things will in fact be different. But in specifics, Chris Christie sounded as though he was keeping his promise to govern as if he planned on being a one term Governor unconcerned with winning the favor of the power brokers and the political establishment.
In that vein, the Governor proceeded to aim his words at every leading figure of every leading group that is draining the life out of New Jersey. And with sniper like precision, his words struck those entities right between the eyes.
To the state senators and assemblymen gathered before him in Trenton, Christie said;
“Ladies and gentlemen, I was not sent here to approve tax increases; I was sent here to veto them. And mark my words, if a tax increase is sent to my desk, I will veto it. It is time for the tax madness to end. The point is, we have tried that route. And it has failed. Previous administrations and legislatures have raised taxes 115 times in the last eight years alone. Raising taxes again on the people of New Jersey, the highest taxed citizens in the country, would be insane.”
To members of his Cabinet and the heads of state agencies, the Governor said;
“Every single department of state government will be reduced: Agriculture, down 24%; Banking, down 12%; Children and families, down 4%; Community affairs, down 35%; Corrections, down 7%; Environmental protection, down 2%; Education, down 8%; Health and senior services, down 6%; Human services, down 4%; Labor, down 6%; Law and public safety, down 7%; Military affairs, down 2%; The public advocate, down 25%. State, transportation and treasury, down 11, 3, and 39%, respectively.”
Those measures will close the existing budget gap by 2.9 billion dollars in savings.
In reference to state workers and unions, there too, the Governor failed to tip toe around their desires and demands and stated that in his budget…..;
“$3 billion in savings results from recognizing that our pension system must be reformed before we can or should fund a broken, out of control system. The pension system has been so generous that it has created a flood of liabilities. From 2002 to 2008, pension payments to retirees grew 56%, triple the inflation rate. Our benefits are too rich, most public employees contribute too little, and the taxpayers have had enough — enough of out of control pensions to public sector unions while they are losing their own jobs, enough of losing their homes, and then being told by the union bosses that they must pick up the tab for rich pensions at the same time.”
Christie even directly addressed one of the states biggest union, the teachers union.
In no uncertain terms he accused them of setting up two classes of citizens in New Jersey “those who enjoy rich public benefits and those who pay for them.” But he did not stop there. He continued to give the all powerful teacher’s union, a long overdue reality check and tongue lashing as he publicly put them on the spot;
“Political muscle fueled by intimidation tactics, political bullying and smears of public officials who dare to disagree. This conduct has set up an unfair system. Is it fair to have any public employees getting 4-5% salary increases every year, even when inflation is zero %, paid for by citizens struggling to survive? It is fair to have New Jersey taxpayers foot the bill for 100% of the health insurance costs of teachers and their families from the day they are hired until the day they die? Is it fair that teachers have a better, richer health plan than even state workers and pay absolutely nothing for it?
I believe rank and file teachers know this is not fair and that we can no longer afford to burden our taxpayers with these costs and runaway taxes. The union bosses will tell you, as they always have each time their empire is threatened, that they are protecting our children. This tired song has grown old and inaccurate. Is the way our children learn affected by whether the union gets free family health insurance for life for its members? Does a child learn more if the union gets 5% taxpayer funded raises every year for its members? This is nonsensical and self-serving and we all know it.”
The scathing remarks prompted television cameras to scan the audience in the assembly chambers balconies and focus on the President of the New Jersey Education Association union president. Once fixed on her, the shaking of her head to the left and right and a tight lipped grimace were clear signs of her discontent with the Governor’s remarks.
But the Governor’s words rang true and they were perhaps the most brutally honest and aggressively critical language that any elected official has ever extended to any of the states over inflated wings of organized labor. They were the words of a leader not seeking political favor from special interests, but seeking to do what is best for the people who are abused by special interests.
And so in the Christie budget proposal school district employees will be required to pay for a reasonable portion of their health care costs in a way that according to Christie, is “just like every other New Jerseyan.”
He punctuated his proposal by stating;
“If we do not end this dual system, state and local government will have to raise taxes endlessly to pay for it. Teachers are not the problem, they get it. Trenton special interests are the problem and we must stand up to them.”
There were many more powerful, verbal punches thrown by New Jersey’s new governor. But what they all amounted to was a budget for the fiscal year that does something that the budgets of few, if any other political leaders in America, do………..it stops playing politics with numbers and the state treasury and starts adding the numbers up responsibly and using taxpayers dollars sparingly and wisely.
Chris Christie’s budget and his budget speech confirmed something that he said when he took office just eight short weeks ago…..“change has come to New Jersey.” He promised that his time in office would not be business as usual, and so far, it is easy to see that he was not lying.
The Christie budget seeks to cut $445 million dollars in various forms of municipal, a proposal made after he told municipal governments to “get [their] acts together” because the state will no longer reward irresponsible spending. The Governor made it clear that only those municipalities that are showing transparency and cutting their budgets will be receiving state aide. All others will have to suffer the consequences of their own wasteful spending.
On this note, the Governor not only proposed a budget that addresses the immediate fiscal problems facing New Jersey, but also the long term problem. His contention is that the out of control spending and growth of state and local government got us to this point and to help curtail the problem from repeating itself, Christie proposed a “toolkit to protect taxpayers from property tax increases”. That tool kit includes what he referred to as Proposition 2½ — a constitutional amendment to cap the growth of property taxes at no more than 2½% per year and also contains a constitutional amendment that caps the growth of state spending at 2½ percent per year.
Here, Christie put the Democrat led state assembly and senate on the spot again and urged them to pass these amendments so that the people could vote on them.
Christie’s presentaion was fearless and his lack of fear never dissipated at anypoint during his address. His budget speech called for civil service reform that will give all levels of local government, the choice to opt out of civil service. “That tool alone will save an untold amount of taxpayer dollars and make management of our towns better and more professional”, said Christie.
Among the governor’s other bold moves are the creation of a privatization board that will eventually take New Jersey state government out of the business of running things like the parking garages it currently owns and operates and turning its state run New Jersey television network (NJN) into an independent, not-for-profit network. Other goals include achieving savings by identifying other state operations that can be contracted out to “competent” outside firms.
Additional cost saving measures include the implementation of electronic benefit transfer cards instead of paper. A measure that would, among other things, crack down on Medicaid fraud, and in the case of state employee salaries reduce the cost of the process by going to a direct deposit system.
By the time Governor Christie finished his address, there were no stones left unturned and no government entity, state subsidized institution or old school economic political practice that was spared from his call for government to tame itself and for special interests to realize that the well is dry.
Chris Christie’s first major plan of action for New Jersey was a far cry from politics as usual. He did not try to ingratiate himself with powerbrokers or indicate to state lawmakers that he will not govern by trying to go along with them to get along with them. He made it clear that the economic crisis that confronts us, leaves no time to play political games and leaves us with no opportunity to put off what must be done today, for another day. Christie made it quite obvuiuosit that today is New Jersey’s day of reckoning and unlike state leaders of the past, this Governor did not place the burden on the people. He placed the burden on the people’s government.
In his budget, gone are the politics gimmicks that rob from Peter to give to Paul. And gone are any traditional attempts to continue pumping an unsustainable, unethical, illogical, and inappropriate, bloated, government by resorting to taxing the most overtaxed people in the nation even more.
Governor Christie proved himself to be just what New Jersey, as well as the nation needs. He stepped up to plate and showed himself to be not a politician but instead, a true leader.
His brand of fiscal leadership represents all that I as a Republican understand more Republicans must adhere to. It was more than just ideological economic policies. It was true fiscal responsibility based on true fiscal facts, not theory. The Christie budget plan adds and subtracts real numbers. Numbers untainted by political favors or promises or cloaking tactics.
The blunt and brutal truth underscored in Christie’s remarks amounted to a profile in courage of a an elected official who has finally decided to be a leader, not a politician. And in the end, it offered a ray of hope to those who have lost faith in government and come to believe that there are no longer any people of true character, courage and leadership, who are willing to challenge the political establishment.
It is becoming more and more evident that Chris Christie is such a person.
Click here to view the entire Christie budget address. You will be impressed.