Christie spits fire at Democrats, but he wants a deal | Moran

By Tom Moran | Star-Ledger Editorial Board
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on February 17, 2016

Governor Chris Christie to Deliver Fiscal Year 2017 Budget Address to Joint Session of the New Jersey State Legislature. Tuesday February 16, 2016.

 

Gov. Chris Christie's budget speech Tuesday had two basic themes.

One was that he has done great things for New Jersey, scoring major wins on jobs, housing, crime — even transportation, if you can believe he had the nerve.

"If you listened to the left wing groups and some in this chamber, you'd would think it's just the opposite," he said.

So, pay no attention to those potholes and credit downgrades, we're doing great.

The second is that Democrats and their buddies, the union thugs, want nothing more than to raise your taxes and waste your money.

He accused Assembly Democrats of walking away from a deal to replenish the trust fund last year, a charge that Speaker Vincent Prieto reasonably described as "an outright lie"

"I was hotter than a baked potato," said Prieto (D-Hudson).

The governor warned that a Democratic plan to Constitutionally require payments into the state pension funds would force a $3 billion tax hike.

"I guess you don't have to tell the truth all the way," said Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester), the sponsor.

So, basically, everything is back to normal in Trenton. Now that the governor's presidential campaign is kaput, he can put his heart and soul into these catfights back home.

But don't despair. This is not as bad as it seems.

The venom spewed by both sides on Tuesday was something like a ritualistic mating dance in the animal kingdom. It's foreplay to the actual negotiations.

If you look at the budget plan Christie presented, it was a modest offering with no poison pills. It leaves plenty of room to make bipartisan deals over the next several months.

The speech was combative; the budget itself is not.

So my guess is that Christie was trying to demonize Democrats and the unions to whip up the public, and to improve his bargaining position.

Hours before the speech on Tuesday, the governor met with Democratic leaders, who said the governor was charming and relaxed, eager to find common ground.

"It's classic Christie," Sweeney says. "Which is to smile at you, and then smack you."

Look at this modest budget plan, and the contrast with the fire-breathing speech is hard to miss.

Take pensions. Christie savaged public workers as a greedy "special interest" group that could bankrupt the state. He trashed Sweeney's plan to force payments, and is sure to hammer that more in coming months.

But his budget plan includes a big pension payments, the same as Democrats want.

There were other sweeteners for Democrats. Christie proposed a big boost in spending on drug treatment, which Sen. Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex) has advocated. And the governor proposed no new tax cuts, as in years past.

He also signaled a willingness to cut a deal on the gas tax, insisting only that it should be linked to a cut in the estate tax.

The governor called that "tax fairness." Which is odd, because the gas tax would hit the middle-class and working poor the hardest, and the estate tax is paid only by the richest 4 percent. That's fair?

Still, Democrats said afterward they do expect a deal on transit, and seem ready to give Christie his estate tax cut in return.

The speech had its odd turns. Why would Christie brag about job creation when everyone knows by now that New Jersey ranks among the worst states in the country on that score on Christie's watch?

Why would he say the transit crisis is an invention of the media and his critics?

"Drive around," said Tom Bracken, head of the state Chamber of Commerce. "Look at the bridges and the pot holes. There are no new projects."

Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), was mystified as the governor's mention of "reproductive health" after he cut funding for Planned Parenthood. "Did I hear that right?" she asked.

Why did he repeat his bogus claim that he closed an $11 billion deficit in his first year, when fact-checkers have ground that assertion to dust over and over?

This budget is not a courageous document. It punts on a lot. It contains no solution to the transit crisis, or the pension crisis.

But it at least leaves his options open, and makes a few important gestures to Democrats. If we're lucky, his bombing out of the presidential campaign could open the door to a return of the old Christie, the one that scored big wins in his first few years.

"It's been frustrating," Sweeney said. "In the first term he was here, you could sit face to face an argue and fight and try to find a solution. That works. We're happy to have him back."

So ignore the noise of those bombs being thrown across the political divide. If we're lucky, that's all theater.

My guess is the governor wants to run for president again someday, which means he needs to clean up the mess at home. And to do that, he has to make deals with Democrats.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment