TRENTON – “All you need to start an asylum is an empty room and the right kind of people.”
Gov. Chris Christie said a lot of things on Wednesday but the above movie quote was not one of them. But that line from the classic comedy “My Man Godfrey” would have fitted in seamlessly with Christie’s condemnation of congressional inaction on approving desperately needed aid for victims of super storm Sandy.
Christie directed a great deal of venom toward Washington, D.C. this past week, particularly at the House of Representatives and its leader, Speaker and fellow Republican John Boehner, for not voting on whether to OK $60.4 billion in aid for New Jersey and other states as they try and rebuild from last year’s devastating storm.
Here is a sampling of what Christie did say:
* “This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. Natural disasters happen in red states and blue states.”
* “We have people down there who use the citizens of this country like pawns on a chess board. Our people were played last night like pawns.”
* “Unfortunately, folks are putting politics ahead of their responsibilities.”
* “They forget that we sent them there. We sent them there to do the work for us.”
* “Last night, the House of Representatives failed that most basic test of public service.”
* “Both parties can take plenty of responsibility over time, but last night my party was responsible for this.”
Christie said plenty of other things during his press conference, but you get the idea.
He pointed out that Sandy victims already have waited a great deal longer for federal aid than did victims of Hurricane Katrina and similar disasters.
He emphasized that New Jersey sends more to Washington, D.C. than it ever gets back in terms of dollars and services.
And he reiterated one of his favorite talking points: There are two types of elected officials: There are those who are out of touch with constituents, who spend their times making deals, whose sole goal is to retain power.
And then there are those like himself, said Christie, officials who actually have to govern.
So, in that sense, Christie’s tirade served multiple purposes, according to some observers.
He was able to chastise Beltway do-nothings for not helping storm victims quickly enough. He was able to portray himself as a leader concerned about citizens’ welfare. He was able to create separation from the establishment lawmakers who are more concerned with maintaining power than in helping the people who put them in power.
So, one might conclude that the press conference is good fodder for the gubernatorial campaign trail this year. And it could be good fodder for a presidential campaign trail in 2016.
But it also served as a wake-up call for Boehner & Co. to do right by people left homeless and businesses left shuttered by Sandy.
Revenue rhetoric redux
Even before Sandy wreaked havoc across New Jersey there were major concerns about the sluggish revenue picture for fiscal year 2013.
A partisan scenario that has become familiar was replayed this past week:
*The Senate Budget Committee convened a hearing. The treasurer was invited to testify. He declined to appear. The budget chief of the Office of Legislative Services was invited to testify. He did.
*David Rosen of OLS once again painted a grim revenue picture. Senate Democrats bemoaned the state’s finances and committee Chair Democratic Sen. Paul Sarlo cast doubt on prospects for a tax cut: “Does the math work?”
*The governor’s office panned Rosen’s outlook, and other Republicans praised the administration for presenting balanced budgets.
The numbers are the numbers, however. And they are not pretty.
OLS talked of a $700 million shortfall that – if growth remains flat – could reach $2 billion. Rosen said revenues have grown .2 percent for the first five months of the fiscal year, and they need to grow by 12 percent to hit the governor’s target.
Rosen cautioned lawmakers that OLS is not actually predicting that the shortfall will reach the magnitude of $2 billion, but still, the figures don’t look good.
The hearing worked well as a scene-setter for this gubernatorial election year. Battle lines were drawn; talking points were tested.
It may have been overshadowed by the revenue autopsy, but the Budget committee advanced a bill backed by Senate President Steve Sweeney this week.
S2425, released along party lines, would increase the scope of public works that could be subject to project labor agreements.
Organized labor praised the bill as helpful, particularly as the state rebuilds from Sandy.
However, business associations warned this would increase the overall cost of projects, which would not further the cause of rebuilding after Sandy.