Ohio, beware

By BARBARA BUONO

Last week, my home-state governor, Chris Christie, paid a visit to Ohio to stump for Republican gubernatorial candidate John Kasich. By all indications, Kasich is eager to hitch his wagon to Gov. Christie’s star. “John is my kind of Republican,” crowed Gov. Christie.  Kasich returned the favor, telling potential voters that “we have with us today Harry Truman – he happens to be a Republican this time…He’s not just a rising star. He’s risen.” Clearly, both men hope to convey a simple message: a vote for John Kasich is a vote to bring Chris Christie’s style of governance to Ohio.

As the Democratic Majority Leader of the New Jersey State Senate, I would caution Ohio voters who hope to import Chris Christie’s brand of Republicanism. Much like Ohio, New Jersey has a long legacy of electing socially progressive, fiscally moderate Republicans who respect the role of government in promoting the common good. In New Jersey, we had Gov. Tom Kean, Sen. Clifford Case, and Congresswoman Millicent Fenwick.  In Ohio, you had Gov. Jim Rhodes and Sen. George Voinovich, to name just a few.

Sadly, Gov. Chris Christie does not follow in this tradition, and his record should be a cautionary tale for Ohio voters to whom he spoke last week.

Since taking office in January, Gov. Christie has waged relentless war on New Jersey’s working and middle-class taxpayers, who are already suffering the effects of the Great Recession. The governor eliminated a temporary tax surcharge on high-income earners who make over $400,000 per year, costing the state $1 billion in revenues. In order to pay for this generous subsidy for the rich, he cut $832 million from public schools, $3 million from school lunch programs for indigent children, and $7.5 million in public health money – funds that help working-class women get breast and cervical cancer screening  as well as routine medical examinations

It gets worse.  The governor raised fares on our trains and busses by an average of 22 percent.  He cut $173 million in funding for state colleges and universities, forcing students to pay more in tuition. All in the service of providing tax cuts to Wall Street millionaires who live in New Jersey and commute to New York. What’s more, he now proposes a new round of upper-class tax cuts for next year.

These measures betray a radical agenda to redistribute wealth from working-class citizens to the wealthy, and it’s not a good model for Ohio to follow.

Gov. Christie ran on a pledge to cut New Jersey’s onerous property taxes.  Instead, he eliminated the state’s property rebate program, causing the average homeowner’s tax bill to skyrocket by 23.5 percent.  This, too, is not a policy that Ohio will want to import.

While campaigning in Ohio, Gov. Christie claimed to have cut the New Jersey state budget by $11 billion.  That would be great, if it were true.  According to his own Treasury Department, Gov. Christie cut the state budget by only $626 million – far less than his Democratic predecessor, who actually cut the state budget by $4.48 billion over two years. I should know – I was chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee at the time.

I don’t mean to suggest that everything Gov. Christie says and does is wrong.  He has proposed some bold steps to address the state’s unfunded public pension and health care liability, and for that, he deserves praise.

But he also spends too much time out of state, raising his national profile, and too little time attending to the nitty-gritty business of being governor.  The governor and his team botched New Jersey’s application for Race to the Top funds, losing $400 million in federal education funds because of an inexcusable factual error in our application.  (Guess who we lost out to? That’s right – Ohio!) What we need is a governor who pays attention to the details – not a politician who pays attention to the cameras.

To be fair, Gov. Christie is not even one year into his term. He may grow into the role.  But his legacy so far can be boiled down to this: tax cuts for the wealthy; tax hikes, tuition hikes, and fare hikes for working families; and relentless self-promotion, to the detriment of both fact and governance.

Ohio doesn’t need a Chris Christie clone in its State House.

Barbara Buono is the state Senate Majority Leader.

Ohio, beware