Would-be president Christie exposed by his New Jersey record

While Chris Christie campaigns for the presidency, the people of New Jersey continue to suffer the consequences of his disastrous policies. Christie likes to say that he “tells it like it is.” culture. But, and no pun intended, to use another phrase from a well-known commercial, “Where’s the Beef?” Let’s look at Christie’s record as governor of New Jersey.

Today, New Jersey’s unemployment rate is 49 highest in the country out of 50 states in spite of Christie’s highly touted pro-business policies. The official poverty rate in New Jersey (itself widely considered an under-estimation of real poverty) has grown since he first took office in 2010.

Campaigning against taxes, Christie actually reduced the earned income tax credit, which helps low income people.

Christie also vetoed the modest increase in the state’s minimum wage to $8.50 an hour before voters solidly endorsed it in a state referendum last year. He added insult to the injury suffered by low-income people when he called the wage increase “truly ridiculous.”

Christie has, with the help of his packed State Supreme Court, refused to make 1.57 billion in pension payments to state employees, provoking a possible pension disaster. Initially, he had pledged to make this payment.

The state pension program is currently 80 billion in debt, the result of both Republican and Democratic administrations misuse of the funds to pay for programs and cover debts. Christie did not create this crisis but he made it far worse and has sought to make both present and past public employees pay for his and his predecessors’ malfeasance. Once more to add insult to injury, Christie has declared that there are “two classes” In New Jersey, the hard working tax-payers and the selfish greedy public employees.

The states’ handling of billions in federal funds for the 2012 Hurricane Sandy, which devastated New Jersey, has been a scandal. Many did not even hear from the state on their aid applications until 2014. The company initially given the state contract was forced to withdraw thanks to allegations of scandal. Today, thousands have still not returned to their homes, many still waiting for “state approved contractors” to complete work on their homes, some continuing to live in apartments and motels (at taxpayer expense) and having to make mortgage payments until their homes are habitable.

Senseless draconian rules radically different from those of the national FEMA and endless delays have led many home owners to abandon their applications for assistance rather than submit to such rules, such as having every room in their homes photographed. And the program is shrouded in secrecy. Inspections are being done by the Chicago Bridge and Iron Company, a transnational corporation similar in its activities to Halliburton with headquarters in the Netherlands.

No one knows where the money is going or even if it is going anywhere. When criticized for his emphasis on rebuilding shore board walk businesses as irrational, since the effects of global warming and rising sea levels means that new storms will likely destroy the rebuilt board walk businesses, Christie replied that he would not be deterred by “esoteric theories” and would continue to be a man of action rebuilding New Jersey.

Jeff Titel, New Jersey State Director of the Sierra Club, summed it up when he said, “The biggest damage Christie has done has been on climate change, sea level rise, and clean water. The irony is that he has gotten this great publicity on Sandy.”

Faced with a Democratic state legislature which has thwarted many of his worst initiatives, Christie has functioned as “Governor (expletive deleted) NO” famous for his vetoes more than for his policies.

He vetoed legislation guarding against gender-based wage discrimination in state funded public contracts, with the support of those business interests which make extra profits by paying women less than men. He vetoed a ban on a weapon, the Barrett .50 caliber — a monster shoulder fired, semi-automatic sniper rifle the ban opposed by the NRA and various hunter interests.

He also vetoed early voting legislation, in line with his party’s policy of restricting rather than extending the right to vote.

An opponent of reproductive rights (the right of women to choose whether or not to have an abortion) and also of marriage equality, his positions on these issues are not essentially different from his fellow right-wing Republicans as they are no different on most other issues.

In 2010, he stripped from the state budget 7.4 billion in funding for family planning and assistance policies directed by Planned Parenthood, which has come back to haunt him as he tries to gain support for his presidential bid.

From the beginning of his administration, he has refused to establish the state health care exchange under the Affordable Care Act, making it harder for citizens of New Jersey to utilize the law for their benefit.

 What has Christie done? He handed corporations over $2 billion in business tax credits to corporations in his first three years in office and much more since He has refused to accept federal funds for major job producing construction projects, turning down billions in federal programs. He has pursued policies that have led New Jersey’s credit rating be downgraded nine times (more than any governor in the history of the state) giving New Jersey the second lowest state credit rating in the country, even though it is a rich state.

As a result, New Jersey on all major economic indexes is not only worse off it was than when he became governor but significantly worse off in these years than New York and its neighboring states.

What does Christie say about all of this? He blames the Democratic legislature, “high business taxes,” (as if his tax giveaways weren’t enough). And of course there are the insults, calling the National Education Association the “National Extortion Association,” insulting constituents who ask him probing questions at town meetings, denying all culpability in the mounting scandals that have beset his administration The only answer to Christie comes from an old Marx Brothers movie where Groucho, caught red-handed, says arrogantly “who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes.”

If anything, Christie is getting worse as he prepares to take his Archie Bunker act nationally. He has advocated a “means test” or modern “poor law” for social security, claiming that its purpose was not to provide security for all senior citizens as a matter of right but to help the indigent poor. Perhaps he will advocate the same thing for Medicare, which his “moderate” Republican rival, Jeb Bush has talked about phasing out.

On the environment Christie, unlike some of his Republican opponents, says that he does “believe” in global warming.

As governor, though, he pulled New Jersey out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a regional cap and trade group with broad bipartisan support

In terms of both environment and economy, Christie at the beginning of his first term vetoed a $9 billion rail tunnel from New York to New Jersey, a major public works project that would have both produced thousands of jobs and many millions in new income for the people and the state, along with reducing the negative environmental and general infrastructure effects of automobile driving in Northern New Jersey. In his habit of adding insult to injury, Christie called the tunnel “a tunnel to Macy’s basement.”

In this regard, there is a far-reaching scandal the Christie administration has sought to contain since Sandy. First the storm did significant damage to the existing New York New Jersey rail tunnel structure. NJ Transit as the storm was developing shifted hundreds of millions of dollars in its rolling stock to unsafe storage in Hoboken.

The Christie administration at first denied any knowledge of this but email leaks have clearly confirmed that many departments of transportation administrators know of the policy as it was developing and did nothing to stop it, even though yard workers and other non-managers were aware of the danger.

The initial losses were reported at 120 million. Recently there have been reports that the losses were as high as 450 million. Christie’s response has been to do nothing except demote one low level administrator as a scapegoat while denying any culpability for the higher ups. Of course, his Port Authority appointees support NJ Transits fare hikes to pay for its and his administration’s failed policies.

Christie has also actively sought to undermine existing environmental protections, giving his appointed director of the Department of Environmental Protection the power to “waive” any rule protecting the environment if it conflicted with “private interest” meaning state contracts to various developers and businesses.

Christie’s action here is in tune directly with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate center writing model state and local laws for charter schools, the privatization of state services, the undermining of environmental protections, the removal of public employee unions, the restrictions of minimum wage and other labor protections. The leading supporters of the ALEC are the Koch brothers.

Contrary to his attempt to portray himself as a moderate, Christie’s policies on most issues in New Jersey are very much in line with ALEC. Democratic assemblyman Bob Smith, a leader in the bipartisan movement to restore the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative which Christie vetoed, said it best when he said Christie’s policy could be summed up “in a four letter word—K-O-C-H.” While Scott Walker may be the Koch Brothers preferred candidate, they would be more than comfortable with Christie, who would have done in New Jersey what Walker has done in Wisconsin if he had a Republican legislature.

It would be nice to get Christie out of New Jersey but not at the expense of the American people. It would be much better to defeat him and his party in New Jersey and his party in the 2016 national elections. Here in New Jersey, it will take a period of healing and restoration for the people to recover from his disastrous policies and his arrogant dictatorial leadership style.

Photo: Demonstrators at a rally outside the New Jersey Statehouse to protest the pace of recovery aid for victims of Superstorm Sandy in Trenton, N.J. on May 14. As the third summer following the 2012 storm nears, the grassroots group is demanding officials help them get their homes back. They are unhappy with what they say is the slow pace of rebuilding aid that the state government has thus far distributed. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

 


CONTRIBUTOR

Norman Markowitz
Norman Markowitz

Norman Markowitz is a history professor at Rutgers University.

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