As roads crumble, Christie treats his job like a sporting diversion | Editorial

By Star-Ledger Editorial Board
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on August 14, 2016

During that quixotic tour of windbaggery known as his presidential campaign, Chris Christie told a roomful of fiction lovers that the job of a governor "is to get people in the room and to bang enough heads together and rub enough arms and cajole enough to have them put the state's greater interest ahead of their own personal partisan interests. That's what we did in New Jersey, and that's the model for America."

Actually, the only thing he has done lately is host a sports radio chat show, that place where real men convene to deplete the collective IQ of civilization by dissecting the manly game of football and trading potty jokes.

What he hasn't done is offer any practical solutions to fix a transportation system that is broken and unfunded, while $3.5 billion in road and rail projects are idle, thousands of workers are missing paychecks, and $1.3 million in economic activity is lost each day.

The governor would assert that he has already made his deal with the Assembly to replenish the Transportation Trust Fund – one that he knew was a non-starter, since it included a sales tax reduction that would have blasted a $1.7 billion hole in the budget.

It was clear then that Christie was less interested in governing than he was in torching the fiscal landscape. It was a deal borne of spite, which would leave frivolous matters like school funding and pension payments on the next guy's calendar, while Christie bolted to run Donald Trump's Justice Department.

Some hope he might be ready to give up his Beltway pipedream and help find an answer for the TTF before his SUV is swallowed by a sinkhole, but he's cashed out.

The Legislature thinks so, anyway; it has concluded that there is no longer any reason to negotiate with His Irrelevancy. Christie's last counteroffer was July 21, and leaders immediately came to this conclusion: They have to draft a bill that would override the inevitable veto.

That's herding cats. Yes, everyone agrees that the TTF must be replenished by hiking the gas tax from 14.5 cents to 37.5 cents per gallon, but there aren't any sensible tax reductions on the menu they can implement to offset that increase – and no one has the political guts to sell the gas tax without a sizable giveback to taxpayers.

Now the operational complexity of dealing with such work-arounds has Senate President Steve Sweeney thinking the stalemate can drag on past Election Day.

Sweeney has taken most of the heat since the TTF went bust, but it's been a heavy lift. He has tried to engage an apathetic governor who'd rather trade towel snaps with a juvenile shock jock. He's had to keep a drifting and adversarial Assembly Speaker from selling the farm.

And, after he pulled the plug on the irresponsible pension amendment, he has had to stand up to voracious union leaders that has been calling for his head because they have been conditioned to think they're the only priority.

The fiscal reality is that the house is burning. We've frozen aid to schools for five years, and the Assembly is proposing more cuts for higher education. Pensioners live with uncertainty of a payment shell game. We're still poisoning our kids with lead. And roads and bridges and railways are putrefying. If only there were a chief executive paid to handle problems like these.

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