Corzine Doing the Right, If Not the Popular, Thing

By Steve Adubato, Ph.D. Obviously, Governor Jon Corzine didn’t make any friends this past week when he delivered his “no magic bullet” budget address. What the governor DID do in his 31-minute sobering speech is talk like a strong leader who understands the severity of our fiscal situation and who talked to the rest of us like the adults we are supposed to be. Don’t kid yourself and don„t listen to those who say that Governor Corzine is exaggerating the budget deficit. It doesn„t matter whether we are $4, $5 or $6 billion in the hole. When you have a $30 billion budget and the hole is that big, you„ve got a serious problem. Add to this the fact that the vast majority of the state budget is really untouchable and things get really dicey. What’s untouchable? Mandated costs, contracts that have been agreed to for employees, commitments that have been made and interest payments on the obscene borrowing that previous governors and legislators have engaged in over the past three decades. Drastic times call for drastic measures. That’s why Governor Corzine proposed raising the sales tax from six to seven percent. He also called for increasing taxes on hospitals, alcohol, luxury cars and cigarettes. But that’s not all. Corzine said we need to freeze state aid to local governments. That means that as municipal and school costs go up, somebody has got to pay the bill. That’s likely to mean higher property taxes in our state that is already known for our property tax mania. Corzine also proposed massive spending cuts in state aid to higher education. The governor has told his department heads that they have no choice but to cut back. This includes the elimination of 1,000 state jobs and 75 individual programs. The largest spending cut was $193 million in what has come to be known as “Christmas tree” items, which is a euphemism for projects and programs individual legislators want for their home districts. (Otherwise known as “pork.”) Are you starting to get the idea now that our new governor is dead serious about getting our fiscal house in order? No wonder during his budget speech that he was interrupted only three times by applause. That„s rare in the Statehouse, which is known for gratuitous clapping on either one or both sides of the political aisle in response to gubernatorial speeches that often tell us what we WANT to hear as opposed to what we NEED to hear. Just on the sales tax increase alone, the legislative response from the Republicans was clear, as Assemblyman Kevin O’Toole (R-Essex) who serves on the budget committee bluntly stated, “If you ask me, it’s political suicide.” But the Democrats are also perplexed as to how to deal with their governor’s tough talk on state finances. According to Senate President Dick Codey who also served as our last governor, “I think everything is on the table in terms of negotiations and compromise.” In theory, that may be true, but the stark reality is that there is a new sheriff in town and business as usual when it comes to the free spending ways of Trenton are over. Jon Corzine has taken a huge political risk and he should be commended for it. He could have easily played games with the numbers and artificially reduced the budget deficit by directing the state’s accountants and fiscal experts to produce a more desirable set of numbers. He could have fudged, but he didn’t. He played it straight. Expect his popularity and poll numbers to drop in the short run, but that’s okay, because he has four years, at least, to help right this ship. It’s funny. Everyone, including many voters, will say that government is too big and cuts need to be made. Some of his detractors actually accused Corzine of being a “big spending liberal” when he was in the Senate. He may have been then, but as governor, he has taken a very different approach. The hypocrisy of those who rail against Corzine now is amazing. The governor did exactly what so-called “fiscal conservatives” said he should do. He cut state programs. He cut the amount of money the state spends on higher education. He cut those “Christmas tree” items. He cut the size of the rebate checks he had promised to send when he was a candidate. He froze state aid to local governments. He got rid of all kinds of programs as well as 1,000 state government jobs. And what happens? He gets criticized by some for cutting the size of state government aid because they are on the other end of the gravy train. And get this; others argue that there should have been even greater cuts before Governor Corzine proposes any new or increased taxes. But when pressed, none of these grandstanders and bomb throwers will identify a single program or state government service to be cut. What Corzine has done is responsible and sound. He has combined government cuts with modest tax increases. Popular? Of course not. But we didn’t elect Santa Claus to bring us gifts and good cheer. We elected a governor who will lead in difficult times and get us out of this massive fiscal mess. I may not have liked hearing what Jon Corzine had to say, but there is no doubt that it needed to be said. But then again, I could be wrong. What do you think about the governor„s fiscal plan? Write to me at sadubato@aol.com

Corzine Doing the Right, If Not the Popular, Thing