Gov. Chris Christie celebrated six months in office Monday with a party in Lacey Township.
The governor’s celebration comes after an exhausting 180 days during which he has waged an unprecedented war against public employees’ unions, state and local spending, and property taxes. His recent victories include passage of pension and benefit reform, a budget that cuts $4 billion in spending but does not raise income taxes and the implementation of a 2 percent cap on tax increases due to take effect next year.
Throughout the budget battle Democrats tried to paint Christie’s budget as calamitous for New Jerseyans, particularly seniors and the disabled. But despite massive cuts in state aid and rebates, so far state taxpayers have not responded with the revolt Democrats have been hoping for. As tax bills are mailed in the coming weeks and residents see propertytaxes soar, the issue may percolate.
The full effects of the cap may not come home to roost until 2011 when municipal governments are forced to cut services and schools are forced to cut teachers and programs to stay within the cap. Some bad news arose Monday aas Bloomberg reported on a Moody’s warning that the worst for communities may be yet to come.
The governor’s war with the teachers union as well as the unions that represent state and local employees have been bloody to say the least, but throughout the governor has stayed in charge and on message. He has largely succeeded in vilifying teachers and demonizing their union head, Barbara Keshishian.
State union leaders have found themselves being accused by the governor of being greedy and unwilling to compromise, even in the face of one of the harshest fiscal climates in a generation.
But despite spending cuts that will likely send this year’s tax bills soaring, the governor’s approval ratings hover at a respectable 44 percent, even with his disapprovals. He heads into the fall having so far marginalized the two men most thought could challenge him in 2013.
Senate President Steve Sweeney (D West Deptford) lost much of his statewide appeal when he cut a deal with Christie to pass the budget and later the cap. Sweeney had introduced his own version of the cap and was able to force a deal with Christie, but his signature issue to date remains one that the governor largely dominated.
Booker was on the receiving end of a Christie end-around, when the Democratic mayor of the state’s largest city endorsed Christie’s plan for a constitutionally mandated cap rather than go with his own party’s legislative version.
Christie eventually threw Booker into oncoming traffic when he cut the deal with Sweeney and signed into law a legislatively enacted cap.
As his conservative bonafides mount, Christie has become a bit of a national darling, even answering questions posed by Fox News Anchor Neil Cavuto last month about possible national ambitions.
One issue has begun to dog the governor, who made his name as a corruption busting federal prosecutor. His ties to Republican advocacy group Reform Jersey Now have begun to resonate as lawmakers, good government groups and newspaper editorial boards have called for the group, which counts three former Republican governors among its board members, to disclose its donor list and adhere to pay to play laws.
To date, Christie has continued to be the featured speaker at $25,000-per-head fundraisers.
Though the governor has denied it in interviews, this fall’s 14th District senate race will largely be viewed as a referendum on his actions to date. Republican newcomer Tom Goodwin (R-Hamilton) will be asked to carry the GOP flag as he vies to retain the seat he inherited from Bill Baroni. Democratic Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein (D-Plainsboro) is hoping to steal some thunder from Christie and the Republicans by taking the seat in the union dominated 14th.
Monday, Christie signaled to supporters that he is not through with his conservative rampage as he issued a Tweet promising to bring “even more change” to New Jersey in the six months to come.