Ex-govs: Issues were casualty of gubernatorial campaign

ATLANTIC CITY – A panel of ex-governors were in agreement on several aspects of Barbara Buono’s failed campaign against Gov. Chris Christie: She lacked name recognition, party support and financial heft.

And as a result, something else critically important did not occur during election season: Critical issues went undiscussed, they said.

While Buono executed what they said was a flawed attempt to besmirch Christie because he might be seeking higher office someday, important state issues such as bond indebtedness went largely unremarked upon.

The result?

“You’ve got to look at what happens now,’’ Brendan Byrne said at the N.J. League of Municipalities conference here. “We’ve loused up our bond rating and we’ll probably louse it up even more.’’

Byrne said he was asked to co-chair an effort to win passage for the $750 million college classroom construction bond issue last year. “I said I will be happy to co-chair that effort if you tell me how you’re going to pay off the bonds.”

He criticized the fiscal road governments choose nowadays.

“In 1955 if you issued bonds you paid them off. You put money in the budget every year for retirement of the bonds. You retired one-twentieth of the principal every year.’’

“Now,’’ he warned, “you roll them over and nobody cares.’’

Former Gov. Jim Florio pointed to other bond-related issues that will be rearing their heads in coming years, possibly just as Gov. Chris Christie is gearing up for a presidential bid.

Florio said that the 2011 pension/benefits reform has provisions for escalating contributions to pensions annually, amounting to more than $1 billion a year in a state budget that is about $33 billion.

The Transportation Trust Fund, he said, lacks money to do anything other than pay off bonds.

“There are going to be serious problems,’’ he warned, “whoever is in charge, and there was no debate by either of the candidates about all of these exploding time bombs.”

If you remove about $5.5 billion from the budget to pay indebtedness, guess who has to pay the price, Florio said.

Former Gov. Jim McGreevey pointed to other issues as examples of how shortsighted government is nowadays.

Lawmakers function as reactionaries, and sometimes perform well on specific issues, but in a larger sense they no longer function as visionaries, and consequently major issues go unaddressed.

McGreevey works with prison inmates, helping them beat addictions and helping to prepare them for a life outside of jail.

“We spend $45,000 per person to lock somebody up,” McGreevey said. 

“We’re driven to respond to an emergency but we’re not about making thoughtful long-term investments that lead to making someone part of a better society.”

There is hope, he said.  Cities are the new “laboratories’’ for what works in public programs.

Jersey City, he said, has the 20th largest downtown in the nation and is poised for greatness because it’s about the council, Democrats and Republicans, and the business community working together.

Ex-govs: Issues were casualty of gubernatorial campaign