Gov. Chris Christies decision to put his considerable political capital behindof all thingsa mall shows a lapse in judgment, at best.
Nearly a decade ago, then-Gov. Jim McGreevey championed Xanadu, a $1.3 billion “shopper-tainment” complex in Bergen County. Xanadu was an old-school boondoggle. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars in public support, it failed after the 2008 financial collapse and sits empty.
Tuesday, Christie stood with the malls new developers and promised that “its finally going to move forward.” The governor offered $200 million in new support to the project, which has a new nameAmerican Dreamand a not-so-dreamy new price tag: $3.7 billion.
Christies support is inconsistent with his values. The Republican governor should understand that theres no place for public money in a mall, even one with indoor ski slopes.
If Xanadus new owners and lenders thought that American Dreams prospects were stellar, theyd fund the thing themselves.
That Xanadu-cum-American-Dream wasnt Christies idea is no excuse. Now that Christie has stuck up for Xanadu, the public could hold him responsible if the project runs over budget againmeaning that more taxpayer money is potentially at risk.
Nor can Christies administration argue that its designing the subsidy to protect taxpayers, perhaps even giving them a share of profits.
Its likely that Christies financial folks will design the subsidy as debt backed by future tax revenues. Many states, including New Jersey, have argued that this type of subsidy is better than cash because the future taxes wouldnt exist without state support.
But giving away future tax revenues is no better than giving away todays. Voters wouldnt like it if Christie took $200 million out of this years budget to give to real-estate developers. Structured tax-supported financing is the same thing, in disguise, and pushes bigger deficits onto future governors watches.
Picking and choosing particular projects doesnt “create” future tax revenues anyway.
Adding a new tax break to New Jerseys storied legacy of special tax favors drives away jobs. Good businesses dont want to deal with bad politics. When government gives a tax break to one company, taxes for everyone else go up, over time, to make up for the shortfall.
Christie didnt start this bad habit, but hes continuing it.
As for the idea of giving taxpayers a cut of future profits: heres an idea. Let government stick to what it should do and return any extra money lying around to taxpayers so they can make their own investment decisions.
Instead of setting a new tone, Christie is singing the same old song. Christie says further that the unfinished Xanadu complex is an eyesore, justifying the states involvement.
Yet many buildings are unattractive. New Jersey is in an historic fiscal crisis. Residents could put up with an affront to their refined aesthetic tastes a little longer.
Christie didnt win office running against bad architecture; he is not the Prince of Wales.
The governor has missed an opportunity to demonstrate what really creates jobs: besides lower and simpler taxes and public safety, good public infrastructure.
Budgeting is about choicesnow just how to spend money, but how to spend time.
Remember: last year, Christie cancelled a $9.2 billion tunnel to New York, noting worry about costs. Now, Christie has chosen to spend his finite time and taxpayers finite money on a mall, which is not public infrastructure, over the rail project, which was.
New Jersey needed that tunnel. The tri-state region is densemeaning that if were to keep our population and our Congressional seats, weve got to grow even denser. We cant do that without better commutes, which help determine the quality of life that attracts people and jobs.
Two decades from now, American Dream is likely to be another long-forgotten political vanity project. But without farsighted public investment now, New Jersey residents will be suffering ever-more miserable and crowded commutes. Subsidized indoor skiing aint gonna take the edge off.
Christie was right to address concerns over the Access to the Regions Core tunnel. Should the feds have paid more, or should New York have paid some of the cost?
But only one of these projects is critical to Jerseys future. Its not the one with the indoor water park.
Original Source: http://www.nj.com/starledger/