In his last budget address, Gov. Chris Christie gave himself good marks for his departing administration, and despite his lame duck status and dismal 17 percent approval rating, proposed a maze of prospective new programs.
Christie called for a $1 billion increase in spending over last year, and bizarrely took “credit” for eliminating 33,000 public-sector jobs.
New Jersey, however, is facing some formidable fiscal challenges that the governor failed to mention.
For example, the state’s bonds have been downgraded 10 times during the Christie era, its rate of job growth since the Great Recession has been one of the slowest in the nation and according to Standard & Poors only Illinois has a worse credit rating. Its retirement program was rated by Bloomberg as the worst-funded of all the states.
Tax collections are nowhere near their predicted growth rate and provide only about half the income needed to run the state, and the massive tax cuts on the wealthy that accompany the recent gas tax increase won’t help the situation.
In addition, it’s very possible that if Congress repeals the Affordable Care Act, the state will have to pick up the tab for expanded Medicaid or force half a million people to lose their only chance at health insurance. Other federal cuts will also have a negative impact: “The ramifications of the Trump presidency are enormous fiscally to the state,” said Gary S. Schaer (D-Passaic), chair of the General Assembly budget committee.
Clearly, Republican leadership has not served the state well, and with the powerful GOD triumvirate in Washington becoming ever more Draconian, the need for progressive leadership in the state going into the next year could not be more clear.