Corzine Guilty of Trying to Lead in Tough Times

By Steve Adubato, Ph.D. I expected Governor Jon Corzine to get a negative reaction to his budget proposal calling for a variety of tax hikes and cuts in state government. But I was surprised at the degree of the hit Corzine has taken to date. Recent public opinion polls show a significant number of citizens don’t like the way Corzine is handling the budget. According to the Public Mind Poll put out by Fairleigh Dickinson University, 61 percent of Garden State voters say that raising the sales tax as Corzine has proposed is a bad idea. We are talking 7 to 10 Republicans and half of all Democrats saying the sales tax hike is a bad idea. The number of New Jerseyans who say that the state is on the wrong track has increased from 47 percent only a month ago to 57 percent today. According to a Rutgers-Eagleton poll this week, Corzine’s support has dropped to 43 percent. That is 10 points lower than his margin of victory in November over Doug Forrester. Add to the poll numbers the protests, rallies and public pronouncements criticizing Corzine on a variety of specific proposals in his budget and one begins to wonder whether Jon Corzine regrets leaving the US Senate for this thankless job as governor. A few weeks ago, I wrote that Governor Corzine should get credit for having the courage and guts to put our fiscal problems on the table and force us to deal with them like the adults we are supposed to be. Too many governors before him have ducked it and borrowed at obscene levels in order to artificially balance the budget. But Corzine hasn„t done that. Sure, I’d rather see a proposed increase on the income tax for the wealthiest New Jerseyans as opposed to a sales tax hike which affects everyone the same, including the richest and poorest citizens. I would have liked to have seen Corzine put some of the public employee pension issues on the table given that these costs have grown out of control and contribute greatly to our fiscal mess. We can argue the fine points, but the fact is most of those who criticized Corzine speak out of both sides of their mouths. On one hand, they say they want Corzine to make more “cuts” in state government spending before he proposes increases in taxes. Forget about the fact that you will never be able to balance the budget with cuts alone. Yet, look at what happens when Corzine proposes to cut state aid to higher ed, which would in turn mean higher tuition for students. Some of those same people who say they want Corzine to cut spending are the parents of students who are freaking out because their kids are the ones in New Jersey„s public colleges. Look at what happens when Corzine freezes state aid to local government and school districts. A hue and cry is heard throughout the state from local government leaders and citizen groups who rail that Corzine doesn„t understand the plight of local government and its dependence upon state aid. Wait a minute, aren„t some of these the people that said Corzine should cut state spending? Again, what they mean is cut someone else but not them. Sure, Corzine could have proposed more than a cut in 1,000 state jobs and I am confident he will over time. But doing that isn„t going to mean that state spending on higher ed and state aid to local governments can be increased. And check this out. According to the Public Mind Poll, 72 percent of New Jerseyans like the idea of an increase in the cigarette tax, while 69 percent say increasing the tax on commercial property sales over $1 million is a good idea. Nearly 60 percent think Corzine is right in increasing the tax on alcoholic beverages. And 64 percent like the idea of increasing registration fees for cars costing over $45,000. But what is really going on here? According to Peter Wooley a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University and director of the Public Mind Poll, “Voters are willing to tolerate nuisance taxes so long as those taxes are more likely to annoy someone else.” So what is Corzine supposed to do? He is trying to be as fair as he can and deal with the information he has in front of him. He is trying to spread the pain out as much as possible. If you really think about it, Corzine is trying to be fiscally conservative in certain areas (again, I would like him to take a closer look at the pension issue as well as other seemingly extravagant benefits given to public employees) but he is catching hell for it from those who like to call themselves “fiscal conservatives.” He is trying to cut back on what state government does and reduce the amount of spending in certain areas. Sure, Corzine probably said the wrong thing when he proposed expanding the property tax rebates to a degree he thought was possible. But now he is saying he may have wanted to do it, but to do it would be irresponsible. So look what happens. Lots of people are saying Corzine broke his promise. Fair enough, but what is he supposed to do now? Exacerbate our fiscal problems by keeping a promise to extend the rebate to people who he now thinks shouldn„t be getting it because to do so would only make things worse? You know what Jon Corzine is guilty of? He is guilty of using the information he has today that he didn„t have when he was running and hopefully making smarter decisions as to what makes sense for the state at this very precarious fiscal time. He is also guilty of being open enough to go out there and take the criticism and attacks for the fiscal plan that he has proposed. He is really listening to the criticism he is getting and there is a good chance that what he proposed will not actually be implemented in its current. But come on, give the guy a break. He is trying to do something virtually unheard of in government today. He is trying to be a real leader. For that, Jon Corzine is 100% guilty. (Full disclosure. This spring and fall, Emmy Award-winning anchor Steve Adubato will anchor a series of in-depth interviews with Governor Jon Corzine as well as citizen focus groups with the governor as part of the series “Democracy Works” which can be seen on Thirteen/WNET New York, as well as on NJN-Public Television, CN8-The Comcast Network and Cablevision. Log on to http://www.caucusnj.org for broadcast schedules and other related information.)

Corzine Guilty of Trying to Lead in Tough Times