Goodbye, Gov. Game-Change?
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took office more than two years ago — and changed not just New Jersey but the nation. Youd think that was the hard part — but the next two years will be more perilous. Christie has to resist the temptation to declare victory ahead of a re-election bid — or a bid for higher office in 2016.
Back in 2010, massive cuts to public-worker pensions and health benefits were pretty much off the table in Jersey and most of America. But Christie understood that his predecessor, Jon Corzine, had left the Garden State bankrupt.
New Jersey was looking at a pension debt of $54 billion over three decades, plus a commitment for health benefits of $71.4 billion. Those bills totaled nearly three times the amount of state and federal money Jersey spends on its day-to-day operations every year.
Christie knew that something had to be done — even if it killed him politically. He fought for a year to push through fixes. Now new civilian workers must work til age 65 (up from 62) and for 30 years to get early retirement. And all workers will have to pay more for pensions and health care.
He even touched current retirees: Their pensions no longer automatically rise with inflation, but only when the state figures it can afford such increases.
All this lopped off $17 billion from Jerseys pension debts — and will save state and local governments $120 billion in pension payments over 30 years, plus $3.1 billion in health payments over a decade.
And other governors noticed that Christie didnt suffer for making these tough decisions.
Make no mistake: Christies bravery here was what gave New Yorks Gov. Cuomo the courage to do his own, less ambitious, pension reform a year later. It also helped other states, including Rhode Island and Wisconsin, rein in public unions.
Add up the cost of state and local government workers across the country, and you have a huge drag on growth. So its fair to say that Christie, by example, has done more for the national economy than President Obama.
But what now?
Give Christie credit for knowing that New Jersey isnt fixed. He made the right decision in not deserting the state this year to make a presidential run.
But now it looks like Christie doesnt know what to do next. In this years budget speech, the governor said he wants to “accelerate the New Jersey comeback.” His idea is a 10 percent across-the-board income-tax cut.
Is Jersey really ready for such a big tax cut? The state still isnt making its full pension payments. And the public assets that support growth — roads, bridges and trains — are still falling apart.
His other big idea this budget season is downright backsliding: He says he wants to “increase school aid for the second year in a row” — spending “a record amount of state aid [on] education.”
Christie knows full well that more money doesnt equal better results. He himself has noted that Newark, for example, spends $23,000 per kid for dismal test scores. And he could do lots to genuinely boost education that doesnt add to taxpayers costs — such as boosting charter schools.
Some of Christies smaller initiatives show a similar lack of vision. Hes lavished $1.5 billion in one-off tax subsidies on projects from the Xanadu mall in northern New Jersey to the Revel Casino in Atlantic City. Such tax breaks are always a bad idea — it amounts to the governor, rather than the free market, picking winners
And does Christie really want to be known as the guy who chose casinos and shopping (rather than, say, genetic engineering) as New Jerseys future?
Hes done something remarkable — restore faith in governments ability to control costs. Why follow up by becoming one more business-as-usual governor?
Heres one idea for another game-changer: Restore faith in governments ability to build.
This is another place where President Obama has fallen down: He said hed use his stimulus to build stuff the nation needed — but didnt.
Christie can say that, that by the time he leaves office, hell have made visible progress on a simple, straightforward plan to fix New Jerseys roads, and also the transit bottleneck that makes so many lives miserable.
He can also draw a contrast with Cuomos tricky financing for the new Tappan Zee Bridge — by actually finding the money to pay for it all, including through the pension savings hes already made.
Christie could set another nation-boosting example for other governors in the next two years — and an example for whoevers in the White House come Jan. 21.
Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/christie_crossroads_J9r7dx3tFvev7IIjmsQP7O?utm_medium=rss&utm_content=OpedColumnists