Analysis: Despite Christie Claim, There Is No "Jersey Comeback"

Christie has let it be known that he hopes to "change people's image of our state" when he delivers the keynote address

By Barbara Buono
|  Tuesday, Aug 28, 2012  |  Updated 9:27 AM EDT
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Many tennis buffs probably remember the early '90s Andre Agassi camera ads, with the slogan "Image is everything."

It's not hard to compare this to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has let it be known that he hopes to "change people's image of our state" when he delivers the keynote address at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. If he can do that, he maintains, he'll "have accomplished a heck of a lot."

Unfortunately for New Jersey residents, image won't address ballooning unemployment, an anemic economy and a stagnant revenue outlook.

Tuesday night, many Americans are due to get their first taste of the carefully constructed Christie image -- a brash, tough-talking fiscal conservative who thinks his leadership, economic policies and tax cuts should serve as a model for the rest of the nation.

As always, he will be entertaining - he isn't called "Gov. YouTube" for nothing. The problem is that this carefully constructed image is based on exaggerations, at best, and falsehoods, at worst.

Christie claims to have put New Jersey on a sound fiscal path -- cutting spending, holding the line on property taxes, fighting off tax increases, investing in education and laying the foundation for the "Jersey Comeback."

That is the image you can expect to see brandished on televisions Tuesday night.

Here is the reality:

New Jersey ranked 47th in economic growth in 2010 and 2011, and our economy shrink by 0.5 percent last year. There are 175,000 fewer jobs in New Jersey today than in December 2007, before the recession started. New Jersey lost 12,000 jobs in July alone, the highest job loss of any state in the nation.

Meanwhile, property taxes for the average New Jersey family were at a 20 percent net increase during his first two years in office, up from $6,244 to $7,519.

To be fair, Christie, like President Barack Obama and all the governors elected from 2008 to 2010, inherited an economy crippled by the Great Recession.

The question to ask however, is: What has Christie done as governor to fix it? And are his policies a model for "America's Comeback Team," as the presumed GOP nominee Mitt Romney seems to think? Or a prescription to avoid?

On taking office, Christie cut state aid for education by $1.1 billion, slashed property tax relief for senior citizens and cut government worker pensions -- breaking campaign promises in all three cases, as The Star-Ledger, the state's largest newspaper, recently reported.

In addition, Christie's personal and political ideology has cost New Jersey billions of dollars in federal aid for education, transportation and women's health funding.

It gets worse.

Poll after poll shows that New Jersey's highest-in-the-nation property taxes are residents' No. 1 concern. So what does Christie propose? Offering a 10 percent across-the-board income tax cut that would give millionaires a $7,625 break, while a family making $50,000 a year would save just $80.

Sound familiar?

To prove that New Jersey can afford a big tax cut, Christie put out a budget that projects that the state will take in 7.3 percent more revenue this fiscal year - a wildly optimistic figure that represents the nation's highest anticipated growth rate.

When a highly-respected, veteran budget expert for the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services questioned those numbers, Christie did what he always does: He went on YouTube and attacked Legislative Budget and Finance Officer David Rosen

as the "Dr. Kevorkian of the numbers."

Meanwhile, state tax collections came in below Christie's rosy-colored predictions in March, April, May and July. We know the June numbers were down anywhere from $250 million to $540 million. But we can't be sure how much because Christie is violating his own executive order on "fiscal transparency" by refusing to release the June numbers.

So far, unfortunately, it's "Dr. Kevorkian" and not "Gov. YouTube" who has been right about the revenues.

Being honest about the numbers would undermine the "Endless Summer" tour that Christie has embarked on to demand that New Jersey's Democratic legislature approve an immediate tax cut that would disproportionately benefit the wealthiest - regardless of whether the state can afford it.

You won't hear about any of this Tuesday night, when Christie joyously proclaims that his policies should serve as a model for the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan ticket -- and the nation.

But an interesting thing happened on the way to Tampa - Christie admitted there won't be any mention of the "Jersey Comeback" in his keynote.

Perhaps he's finally reached a moment of enlightenment? Perhaps, like Agassi, he's finally realized that to truly achieve greatness, you have to let go of the notion that image is everything and accept reality.

Barbara Buono is a Democratic state senator representing Middlesex County's 18th Legislative District in New Jersey.

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