PHOTO: New Jersey residents are the nations most heavily taxed. They are near the top in income, property, sales and corporate taxes. Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) is attempting to change that.
One of the most important legislative battles in the nation is now occurring in New Jersey. This is the height of the state budget season and a balanced budget must be produced by June 30th. Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) is attempting to slash spending and stop the growth of public employee salaries and benefits.
He also wants to limit annual property tax increases to 2.5 percent. Last year Christie defeated incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine (D) who spent over $30 million on his re-election campaign and President Obama made four trips to the state on behalf of the Democrat.
The Governor needs 21 votes in the Senate and 41 votes in the Assembly to pass his reforms. This will be difficult because Democrats are the majority party in both Houses. In the Senate there are 23 Democrats and 17 Republicans. There are 47 Democrats and 33 Republicans serving in the General Assembly.
Voters would also have to approve a property tax cap. To assist his effort in passing the reforms, Christie is attempting to hold town hall meetings in every county. He is telling citizens that state pensions and medical benefits are going to be a huge structural liability for many decades. He is also describing his plan to fire 7000 state workers (the exact number hired by his predecessor), and he may have to cut staff salaries by 20%. The real problem is not salaries, but the generous pension benefits.
The Governor is one of the few politicians who has the courage to take an unpopular stand against public employee unions. He promised to do this during last year’s campaign, and has begun a meaningful discussion on what the state can not afford.
He has offered specific proposals on how to cut government spending, and plans to ease New Jersey’s tax crush. The Christie plan includes pension reforms, requirements for public employees to contribute more toward their benefits, and a two-thirds legislative supermajority for all future tax increases. Decades ago New Jersey was ranked the number one state in the nation for economic growth, but those days are long over.
Spending ballooned after passage of a state income tax. Corzine was elected in 2005 with a pledge to cut property taxes by 40%, but they ended up being increased by 20%. He left office with an almost $10 billion deficit, and Christie said New Jersey is a prime example of what happens when liberals have complete control of a state government. To his credit, Corzine now admits there was “reckless borrowing,” and says “Let’s call it like it is: Everyone’s property taxes are too damn high.”
Now that he is in the Governor’s office, Christie has signed an unprecedented executive orders to freeze and cut spending. He has revoked funds from local school districts, hospitals and NJ Transit and declared a “state of fiscal emergency.”
The Governor wants to force more than 500 school districts to spend their surpluses in place of state aid. He repeatedly tells town hall meetings that the state is on “the edge of bankruptcy. We must come to terms with the fact that we cannot spend money on everything we want. The days of Alice in Wonderland budgeting in Trenton end.”
A recent Rutgers University study demonstrated that many upper income people have left the state since 2004. The Wall Street Journal explained this, “So what happened in 2004? The study doesn’t purport to explain what caused the wealth movements. But the state’s most notable economic policy event that year was an increase in its top income tax rate to 8.97% from 6.37%, on incomes starting at $500,000. That’s a 40% increase.”
Jim Hughes, a dean at Rutgers University, says “The tax the rich solution that we often hear has only resulted in a significant decline in the state’s wealth. We’ll probably see a continuation of the trend, until there are no more high-wealth individuals left.”
Christie’s message is that the state needs lower taxes to lower unemployment, and he wants to provide hope for the over 500,000 NJ residents who are unemployed. He says “Private-sector jobs are going to be created by giving our entrepreneurs more of their own money back. The tax cut I propose is one that provides more money to small business.”
Can He Accomplish Anything With a Democratic Legislature?
In most states there are significant limits on what a GOP Governor could accomplish if they were confronted with a hostile state legislature. In California, the Republican Governor and the legislature are at a standstill. Republicans claim all they can hope for is the death of bad bills an government expansion. There is a big difference between California and New Jersey. The Garden State has one of the most powerful chief executives in the nation. Christie is able to rewrite legislation and cut spending with the stroke of his pen. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wishes he had that ability.
PHOTO: According to the most recent polls, Tim James and Bradley Byrne are the front runners in tomorrow’s Alabama gubernatorial primary. State Rep. Robert Bradley has been spending heavily on TV and Roy Moore has over 90% name identification. Almost 30% of GOP voters are still undecided.
Alabama voters go to the polls on Tuesday, and all eyes are on the gubernatorial primary. The state has voted Republican in five of the last six gubernatorial elections and Gov. Bob Riley (R) is stepping down after two terms because of term limits.
Governor Bob Riley (R) Retires
In 2002, Riley, 65, narrowly defeated incumbent Don Siegelman (D) in what was the closest gubernatorial election in state history. Riley won by 3000 votes and was re-elected with 58% in 2006 when he defeated the Democratic Lieutenant Governor.
Riley is leaving office after seeing the creation of over 150,000 jobs, and he is the first governor in over 70 years to sign an income tax cut into law. The Governor’s biggest setback occurred at the start of his tenure in 2003 when his $1.2 billion Amendment One tax plan was defeated by state voters.
Leading the opposition was Riley’s former primary opponent, Tim James, who is once again seeking the nomination. During Riley’s tenure both Honda and Hyundai expanded auto manufacturing in Alabama and all Mercedes Benz SUV’s are constructed in the state.
The departing Governor can also claim credit for an additional 29,000 jobs being created by German-based ThyssenKrupp steel manufacturing company. They are constructing a $4.2 billion plant which will be opening this year. Riley is also a firm opponent of gambling and has clashed with the GOP state Attorney General in an effort to rid the state of slot machines.
Republicans: Bradley Byrne, Tim James, Robert Bradley and Roy Moore
This year there is no clear frontrunner in either party. Many supporters of the retiring Governor are backing Bradley Byrne, a former State Senator who previously served as chancellor of the state’s two-year college system. Byrne, 55, an attorney, has raised $4.7 million. Byrne has been endorsed by most of the state’s newspapers as well as former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) and former Rep. Jack Edwards (R-AL).
Tim James, 48, has never held elective office. He is the businessman son of former two term Gov. Fob James, and was defeated by Riley in the 2002 primary. James has raised $4.4 million, but $3.2 million of that is in the form of loans to his campaign.
James has received national publicity because of his tough ads opposing illegal immigration which have received over 800,000 online hits. The Alabama driver’s license exam is now available in eight languages and James wants to change that to English only. He has been endorsed by Rep. Robert Aderholt, former Rep. Sonny Callahan and Americans for Tax Reform. Many organizers of the 2008 Huckabee presidential campaign in Alabama are now supporting James.
Another major candidate is Roy Moore, 63, who seven years ago was removed as the chief justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court. He was kicked out after defying a judicial order to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments which he had erected on the court’s lawn. Moore unsuccessfully challenged Riley in the 2006 GOP primary and was defeated by a 67% to 33% margin. This year his contributions are far below the totals received by Byrne and James. Moore has been accused of advocating a “Christians only theocracy.”
For example, he said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim elected to the US House of Representatives, should have been barred from sitting in Congress. Moore believes a Muslim can not honestly take the oath of office because the “Qur’an did not allow for religions other than Islam to exist.” The Judge went on to say that “common sense alone dictates that in the midst of a war with Islamic terrorists we should not place someone in a position of great power who shares their doctrine”.
State Rep. Robert Bentley is a medical doctor who has been financing his own campaign. While the media has been focusing on Byrne and James, Bentley has been rising in the pools. A Research 2000 poll conducted in mid May had Byrne in front with 29%, Moore at 23%, James with 17% and Bentley 9%. 30% of Republicans are still undecided and a July 13th runoff will occur between the top two candidates. In the general election Byrne has a 17% lead over the top Democrat.
Democrats: Rep. Artur Davis vs. Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks
Blacks represent nearly half of the state’s Democratic primary voters, so it is not surprising that the first African American gubernatorial candidate could be nominated. Rep. Artur Davis is black and has served on Capitol Hill since 2002. He is a Harvard graduate and is the first well funded black gubernatorial candidate in Alabama history. He has raised $2.6 million.
He is running to the right of State Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, who is white. Davis is the only member of the Congressional Black Caucus who voted against Obama’s health care reform package. He endorsed Obama in 2008, but when the President visited the state this year, Davis would not appear with him.
The surprise is that four well respected black organizations have endorsed Sparks, and they are opposing Davis because of his conservative views. Davis says these organizations are ineffective and he is ignoring them because they are requesting large sums of money to receive their endorsement. Sparks’ plan to expand gambling and to create a state lottery to provide college scholarships is proving to be popular with many Democratic voters. Sparks has raised $1.9 million.
A Research 2000 poll conducted last week gave Davis an 8 point lead, 41% to 33%. A poll conducted by Capital Survey Research Center for the Alabama Education Association indicates 46% of Democrats were undecided one week before the primary.