Jon Corzine will deliver the most important speech of his political career today when he presents his “pain on every page” budget to a joint session of the Legislature. In the long term, Corzine will need to convince New Jerseyans that the state budget crisis was created by a failing national economy caused by George W. Bush and Washington Republicans. But in the short term, Corzine must convince core Democratic constituencies most affected by this budget, especially public employees, to back him up and keep their members in line. There are reports of a deal to roll back raises, but not for any substantial layoffs of state workers.
Key to the success or failure of Corzine’s budget may be the reaction of local government officials in blue and white collar towns to cuts in aid to school districts and municipalities. Democrats have little trouble remembering that Gov. Jim Florio’s $2.8 billion tax increase in 1990 led to enormous Republican victories beyond picking up ten seats in the State Senate and 21 Assembly seats. Economic issues created Republican wins at the local and county levels, including three Camden County Freeholder seats and GOP control of the Middlesex County Board of Freeholders.
The pressure of Corzine is huge. A Quinnipiac University poll taken last month has Corzine’s job approval upside-down at 41%-50%, with 68% of voters dissatisfied with the direction of the state and 54% saying Corzine should not win re-election to a second term. Just one-third of the state’s voters approved of the way Corzine is handling the economy, while 56% disapprove. Two independent polls released last month show Corzine trailing one Republican challenger, former U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie.