Legislators Have it Easy ¦. Corzine Has it Hard

By Steve Adubato, Ph.D. Being in the legislature is pretty easy compared to being the governor. I know, because 20 years ago, I served in the legislature. Don’t get me wrong, it can be tough getting elected, particularly if you are in a marginal swing district, which can go either way from election to election. But being in the legislature is another story. Sure, committee meetings can be deadly boring, and listening to your colleagues drone on forever on the floor can be painful, but all in all, you don’t have to be that responsible for what you say and do. You can be against just about anything without having to come up with an alternative. You can criticize without being held accountable. If you are in the minority party, it is even easier. All you have to say is; “The other guys are rotten. But if WE were in power… ” Governor Jon Corzine knows this painful fact of political life all too well. For nearly six years he served in the US Senate, the most prestigious legislative body in the land. By all accounts, Corzine was a good Senator, but like I said, being in the legislature isn’t that hard, just ask Corzine now that he’s governor. Virtually every time he has proposed a potential solution, remedy or policy change, numerous members of the legislature pop up from the peanut gallery blasting his proposal. Just look at what happened with the “pump-your-own-gas” proposal that Corzine floated a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t like it either, particularly because I am not exactly confident that I could have pulled off actually pumping the gas into my own car (plus, who wants to get that stinky gas smell on their hands, not to mention not wanting to get out of the car when it is cold or raining.) But, all Corzine was doing was trying to find some ways to reduce gas prices in the state. Was it the best idea? Probably not. However, if you are in the legislature, you don’t have to come up with one. All you need to do is try to get headlines by saying that Corzine’s idea was all wet and leave it at that. No recommendations about cutting gas prices. Nothing. Just throw a bomb and see where it hits. Now, look what’s is happening to the sales tax increase that Corzine has put out there as a possible way of closing a $4 billion budget gap. A sales tax increase from six to seven percent would bring in $1.4 billion. That’s big money for just a penny increase in a sales tax. But look what happens in the legislature. Both parties, including the Democrats who were supposed to be Corzine’s friends, rail against the idea acting as if they are coming to the rescue of the little guy. They say, “no way to the sales tax,” but, of course, don’t even attempt to say where they would make up the $1.4 billion. Just “no” to the sales tax, because they are against all sales tax increases. Like I said, it is a pretty easy job. But Corzine, as chief executive, has to figure out how to get this budget balanced by the end of June. So what does he do? He proposes another really unpopular idea of drastically cutting state aid to higher education. Nobody wants to do that. Nobody wants to see tuition increased and make it harder for working class kids to pursue college. But something has got to give. Corzine told me in a recent interview for a series called “Democracy Works: A New Governor, A Challenging Agenda,” that he personally didn’t want to cut higher ed to this degree, but he was trying to get college presidents to “scrub their budgets” and find inefficiencies and waste. Corzine is trying to send a message about how serious the situation is, but what do our legislative “leaders” do? They pander to college students and their parents saying they will never let the governor cut higher ed like this. But again there are no alternatives and no suggestions for how to make up the money that they promise won’t get cut. There are no tax increases and no specific calls for reductions in state government or state services. But the final blow came this week on the so-called hospital bed tax, which Corzine proposed. The hospitals joined together to blast the proposal and legislative leaders this week made it clear that they were against the bed tax which would raise over $200 million. But predictably no alternative, no recommendations, nothing, just, “We’re against the governor’s proposal because we are for the hospitals.” You’ve got to laugh sometimes at the legislators. They are for the students. They are for the motorists. They are for the tax payers. They are for the little guy. They are for everything that makes them look and sound good, but when it comes to the hard work of governing, it’s Jon Corzine’s problem as the state’s chief executive. About now, Corzine must be wondering if his old cushy job in the US Senate wouldn’t be a lot better for his mental health. Let me know what you think. Write to me at sadubato@aol.com Steve Adubato is the anchor of a series called “Democracy Works: A New Governor, A Challenging Agenda,” that can be seen on Thirteen/WNET New York, as well as on NJN-Public Television, CN8-The Comcast Network and Cablevision. This series premieres on May 20, 2006, with interviews with Governor Jon Corzine. Log on to www.caucusnj.org for a more detailed schedule of the “Democracy Works” series.

Legislators Have it Easy ¦. Corzine Has it Hard