Trimming the state budget is a little like dieting. The plan might be good but sticking with it is tough . Most of us have had to diet at some point and we start out with great intentions, will power and a pledge to stick to a detailed diet and exercise regimen to shed those damn extra pounds. But then we get hungry. Then we get cranky. We whine, "It's hard!" And, then we eat the Ho-Ho's.
As with any diet, reducing the fat in the state budget and shrinking the waistline on the people's ‘taxes belt' that's making it hard to breathe, is far easier said than done. Every gubernatorial candidate, for the past 25 years, has campaigned on promises to make our collective tax-fat melt away and make our state budget leaner. We all want to believe. Just like we all want to believe those hyped up ads for the newest pills that guarantee we'll lose 20 pounds in our sleep. The reality is, we still wake up fat.
Chris Christie's diet for New Jersey is a failure before it even gets under way. The biggest problem is that he has no solid ‘diet' plan for the state budget, or for the looming $8 to $10 billion deficit, at all. Christie has spent the last six months loudly criticizing Governor Corzine, and blaming Democrats, for not cutting the state's flab without presenting any solution of his own. We know from own dieting experiences that ‘no plan' means no results.
Christie does have some sparsely fleshed out budget ideas which defy calories in/calories out logic. He has said he wants to cut some patronage jobs, waste and abuse; would use the line-item veto to prevent lawmakers from sneaking wasteful items into the budget; and, would encourage voluntary local government mergers. Christie has also said he would deny state health care benefits to the ineligible and cut state overtime, which amounts to savings of just over $400 million. All told, Christie's proposed cuts amount to less than $2 billion, leaving a daunting $6 to $8 billion gap. On top of that, he has made other proposals estimates say will add $3 billion to the budget.. The spending calories add up and the budget pie gets bigger. Not surprisingly, so will our property tax belly fat.
Another dieting maxim is that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Case in point is that many New Jerseyans believe that cutting the state workforce alone will solve the budget bloat. Early in the campaign, Christie promised to slash the state workforce to solve our budget woes. This doesn't work for two reasons. From a practical standpoint, the bulk of state workers staff the prisons, the state institutions, the state police, child and family services, the motor vehicles commission among other essential services. Secondly, the entire state workforce,—salaries, overtime, heat, the buildings they work in-account for around $5 billion of the nearly $30 billion budget. As the independent gubernatorial candidate, Chris Daggett, has pointed out, "To close this budget gap, we'd have to fire state workers twice."
For most of New Jersey, the state budget is as mysterious as the ingredients list for Twinkies but not nearly as tasty. During last week's gubernatorial debate, Christie said that our state's tax burden and business climate were "suffocating" the state economically and causing people to "leave the state in droves." That may be true but he didn't answer the questions New Jerseyans are asking-"Where will the money to plug the budget deficit come from? How will you reduce property taxes? What will you do to create jobs?"
With just few short weeks left in the race, Christie's hyperbolic criticisms of the state of the state budget coupled with his refusal to offer an economic plan is kind of like bemoaning the fact that he doesn't fit into his old jeans while eating a Double-Quarter Pounder with Cheese and a side of supersized fries. Sticking to a budget diet plan, without reaching for the Ho Ho's may be hard for all of the candidates. But, a winner with no plan at all would mean that the people of New Jersey end up as the "biggest losers."