Saturday, January 15, 2011

Chris Christie's Culture Of Half-Truth

I finally made my way through the Governor's State of the State address, and by and large I find what it fails to say to be more important than what it actually does say.

Although the Governor said he believes in a culture of truth, he began his speech with a number of half truths. He claims to have balanced the State budget; however, the budget isn't truly balanced. The Governor relied on FMAP money which only partially came in, failed to fully fund the transportation trust fund and refused to make Constitutionally mandated payments to the public employee pension plan. He claimed that taxes are lower, but did not clarify that they are only lower for the wealthy and that property taxes are certainly on their way up this year. And he claimed that New Jersey's taxes are causing the wealthy to flee the State, a claim which has already been debunked.

On the stay the course front, the Governor reiterated his three top priorities: fiscal discipline and lower taxes; reforming the public pension system by raising the retirement age, freezing COLAs in times of little or no inflation and requiring public employees to contribute to their own pensions; and reforming our education system by eliminating tenure, closing failing schools, instituting merit pay and creating more charter schools.

On the revisiting Reagan front, the Governor referenced the shining city on a hill, which Christian conservatives recognize as a reference to heaven. He also seemed to embrace trickle down economics by suggesting he would close popular programs to fund infrastructure investments and tax breaks.

But on what may well be Christie's most lasting legacy, nary a word. First, the Governor said nothing about his battle against the rule of law. Many of his cost-cutting moves are being challenged in court, including his education cuts and his attempt to cap superintendent pay. There is a good chance both plans may be found to be unconstitutional. The Governor actually said he would allow the State to make its Constitutionally mandated pension contributions if, and only if, he gets the pension plan reforms he seeks. So, despite the fact that Governor has sworn to uphold the State Constitution, he continues to ignore select Constitutional duties.

Second, the Governor said not a word about his expansion of the executive branch of New Jersey's government. He has merged the Inspector General and the Medicaid Inspector General into the executive branch, and seeks to do the same with the State Commission of Investigation. He is also exploring absorbing the county prosecutors into the Attorney General's office.

So, simply put, the Governor is mum about bringing all of the State's investigative and prosecutorial power under the control of an executive branch which feels free to ignore the rule of law, seriously undermining our State's checks and balances.

I know that telling people that he is expanding government does not play as well with his right wing besties as beating up on teachers and cops, but really, I do think it deserves some mention when discussing the State of the State.

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