By Barbara Buono
What would you do if your bank refused to send you your checking account statement or to let you see any of your transactions on-line?
How would you know if your paychecks had come in or your checks had cleared? What if you didn’t even know your bank balance?
You would be angry, and you would demand that the bank follow the rules and give you a full account. Then you would probably switch banks.
Unfortunately, that’s the position that we — the citizens of New Jersey — find ourselves in this morning, except that we don’t have the option to switch banks. We’re stuck with the Treasury Department.
Fifty-one days after the fiscal year ended, we still don’t know how much cash we took in during the month of June because the Treasury Department won’t tell us.
That’s not because the Treasury Department doesn’t know: Treasury officials look at the balances in the state’s Comprehensive Financial Accounting System every night.
And it’s not because the Treasury Department isn’t supposed to give us the information. In the interest of “fiscal transparency,” Treasury’s boss, Governor Chris Christie, signed an executive order that requires the Treasury Department to give us the full end-of-year June revenue statement by the end of July.
So why won’t Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff give us the numbers?
First, the reason Treasury says they won’t tell us is because there are still checks coming in, and they don’t want us to worry. Well, we’re worried.
Note to Sidamon-Eristoff: David Rosen, the Office of Legislative Services’ Budget and Finance Officer, also gets to look at your Comprehensive Financial Accounting System every night too, and he tells us that our June revenues were still $542 million lower than expected as of last Thursday. Dr. Rosen – remember him, your boss called him the “Doctor Kevorkian of the numbers” – is actually a fair
guy: He says we probably still have $200 million to $300 million in Fiscal Year 2012 money coming in, but that still puts us $240 million to $340 million below where you said we would be. That’s going to eat up about half of the state’s surplus, which isn’t going to make the bond rating agencies happy.
Second, we know that Sidamon-Eristoff and his boss, Governor Christie, are nervous about putting out any numbers showing that state revenues are coming in far below expectations. The news about the state losing 12,000 jobs and the unemployment rate climbing to a 35-year high of 9.8 percent last week was bad enough. It would be worse if the June and July revenue collections showed that revenues are still coming in far below the 7.3 percent growth rate that Governor Christie certified in June – and that numerous fiscal experts and legislators, including me, questioned at the time. That would certainly be evidence that the “New Jersey Comeback” is failing, and we certainly wouldn’t want that coming out before the Governor’s keynote address to the Republican National Convention next Tuesday.
Finally, there’s Governor Christie’s “Endless Summer” tour. The governor keeps holding town meetings around New Jersey and telling national audiences that New Jersey can afford an immediate income tax cut of about $200 million. It’s going to be awfully hard for Christie to keep saying that if Treasury puts out the June revenue numbers and New Jersey citizens get to look at what’s not in their checkbook.
Christie probably wants to say it one more time in his keynote speech.
Trust me, Governor Christie says. The money is there for the tax cut.
The “New Jersey Comeback” is real, he tells us.
The governor obviously has forgotten a favorite maxim of his political hero Ronald Reagan. As Reagan told Mikhail Gorbachev repeatedly throughout their negotiation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty 15 years ago, the best philosophy is “Trust, but verify.”
If it was good for Reagan, it should be good for Christie.
It’s time for the Christie administration to verify.
The author is a state senator representing the 18th Legislative District