A guest column from Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, a Morris County Republican:
During his inaugural address, Governor Corzine repeatedly emphasized one theme: “hold me accountable.”
So, as the midterm elections approach, and his Party defends its record – his record – the question presents itself: has Corzine fulfilled the promises made during his campaign, or in his inaugural?
Corzine enjoys a huge advantage: following Jim McGreevey, virtually anyone looks good by comparison. The Democrats under McGreevey compiled one of the most shameful records of political and fiscal irresponsibility ever witnessed. The Democrats turned New Jersey into a national laughing stock, an economic basket case. If Corzine inherited a mess, his Democratic legislative counterparts created it.
Corzine promised change: an end to fiscal gimmicks, REAL property tax relief and reform (without new taxes), and a rebirth of ethical standards. He assured us that his private life would not impinge upon his public duties. He pledged to drive a hard bargain with state employee unions and to end the power of political bosses.
Sadly, after two years, most of these promises seem little more than empty rhetoric. The woman who knew him best – his wife – predicted, in a New York Times interview, that he “… would let New Jersey down”. Although he’s only halfway through his term, that prediction seems increasingly prescient.
Give the man his due. McGreevey was mendacious: a deliberate, inveterate liar, utterly without principle, to whom honor and veracity meant nothing. Corzine, contrariwise, seems an earnest True Believer, a collectivist with a grudging understanding that the market and socialism play together poorly. A political Hamlet, he waivers between his socialist heart and his capitalist brain. He seems truly torn: he wants economic growth and understands the (Republican) policies necessary to bring it about, but those policies run completely contrary to his socialist impulses. Alas, poor Jon …
To cases. The Corzine campaign centered on his promised REAL property tax relief, a pledge to increase rebates by 40%, without raising other taxes.
He failed miserably. Rebates – a foolish policy to begin with – were among the first casualties of his Administration. Then, he raised numerous taxes, including, most spectacularly, the sales tax. While condemning fiscal gimmicks and one-times, he endorsed the Mother of all One Time Gimmicks – an election-year rebate scheme which employs two years’ of revenue for one year’s rebates. He pledged sustainability, then adopted a plan which, by definition, cannot be sustained.
Corzine pledged pro-growth economic policies, but the massive tax hikes he delivered grow nothing but government. Indeed, government grew substantially under the Democrats’ watch, while private employment stagnated. While Hizzonor lamented the loss of high paying jobs, and their replacement with relatively low paying service sector jobs, his confiscatory tax policies continue the McGreevey policies which exacerbated the problem. Tens of thousand of productive citizens continue to flee NJ annually, replaced mostly by foreign immigrants, many of them illegal. About which he has also done nothing (although, in fairness, he never ran on a law and order platform).
Corzine asked the Legislature to “be bold”. But timidly kowtowing to the urban bosses, he endorsed a budget which included hundreds of millions of “Christmas Tree” items. Indeed, the only time he demonstrated any real backbone came during a wholly artificial budget “crisis”: an intramural spat between Democrats over what taxes to raise. Corzine demanded an increase in the sales tax, while Assembly Democrats held out for a stealth increase in the income tax. (They were BOTH wrong, but the Governor was less wrong.) Neither faction even considered spending cuts.
The Guv promised that he would drive a hard bargain with public employee unions; he proved to be a cream puff, leaving public employees with wages, pensions, and benefits unheard of in the private sector. Indeed, the only recent occasion on which the Governor demonstrated the slightest passion came at a Labor rally, during which he beat the air with his fist and promised to deliver a “fair contract”. Unsurprisingly, the only group singled out for a welcome during his inaugural was “… my friends from labor”. Clearly, the taxpayers had no representation at the bargaining table.
To his credit, unlike his immediately predecessors, Corzine actually included contributions to the pension plans in his budgets, a necessary step. But that hits the taxpayers with the full responsibility for resolving the pension/benefits crisis. He refused to roll back ill-advised unilateral increases in benefits (adopted, alas, by Republicans, and foolishly supported by your humble correspondent). Although he complained about borrowing, he “fixed” the TTF with even more borrowing, endorses $650 million in additional borrowing for this year, and is apparently incubating a “monetization” scheme – the Father of all gimmicks and one-times – which, in effect, borrows tens of billions against future toll-road revenues, using the proceeds to fund even more spending, virtually all of it in Democratic districts.
So, two years into his term, to what can Corzine point as a signal accomplishment? Taxes up substantially; size of government way up; spending mushrooming; borrowing exploding; no property tax reform; phony property tax relief; weak-kneed ethics measures; continued explosion in pension/health benefit costs; personal controversy; and serving as the chief of Party which could hold a leadership conference in Southern State.
The last six years represent a time of almost unparalleled financial/political disaster (and this from someone who thought that it would be difficult to surpass the Whitman/DiFrancesco legacy of foolishness). During the last two of those years, Corzine has done essentially nothing to right the ship of state. He demonstrated little leadership, certainly much less than the awesome power of the country’s most powerful Executive permits.
Corzine stands unabashedly on the side of those who benefit from, or work for, government, and strongly opposed to those who pay the bills, despite the fact that he seems dimly aware that such dynamic represents a recipe for catastrophe. The only solution to halt NJ’s inexorable economic slide lies in cutting taxes drastically, paring back government substantially, paying public employees on a scale commensurate with their private sector counterparts, stopping the tax/regulatory assault on business; equalizing school aid per child, etc. In short, all those things which only a Republican – and a conservative Republican at that – could endorse. Unless Corzine is willing to directly confront every spending interest group and reverse himself on just about everything in which he professes to believe, he cannot rescue NJ from it steady decay.
“Hold me accountable”, eh? Fine. A marginally more honest budget (as compared with McGreevey – which truly damns by faint praise) … and nothing else. And even that at the price of billions in new taxes. Quite literally, no accomplishments whatsoever. Not a single major problem even so much as addressed, let alone solved. No action whatsoever, let alone “bold” action. Zero. Zip. Zilch.
Now, to the charge of partisanship in this undertaking, I plead unashamedly guilty. But I criticized Governors Whitman and DiFrancesco when they pulled McGreeveyite stunts. The GOP DESERVED to get "thumped” in last year’s Congressional elections for its abandonment of principle and its Democratic-lite spending predilections (despite the fact that the Dems have proven themselves exponentially worse). While I can honestly criticize a sitting president, and a sitting Governor – of my own Party – when they act foolishly, I will wager a lunch at Pal’s Cabin that not one of the Dems taking up the pen opposite me, assigned to defend THIS Administration, contemporaneously criticized McGreevey for the policies everyone now admits to be both dishonest and insane. Indeed, they almost certainly voted in favor of every one of his absurd budgets, for his obscene, unconstitutional borrowing, and for his confiscatory taxes. Given their uncritical support for McGreevey, based upon nothing more than partisanship, their uncritical, partisan support of Corzine counts for little.
The future looks bleak, with the massive shadow of “monetized” borrowing darkening the horizon. As bad the Corzine legacy looks now, he apparently entertains thoughts of making it markedly worse.