Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who is toying with the idea of running for president, has yet to show sufficient interest in managing the public’s money in ways that benefit the public. He talks plenty tough, but can he make hard decisions that help ordinary people, even when it might hurt him politically?
His record on this score has been dismal. Time and again, he has used dubious strategies to avoid raising taxes (sparing him from inevitable criticism by party conservatives), even when increasing taxes would be the right thing to do. Such tactics have not helped the state. New Jersey’s bond rating took another hit when Mr. Christie, facing a big budget shortfall, rejected the usual remedies — cutting costs, borrowing money or raising taxes — and instead cut state contributions to the public employees’ pension fund.
Mr. Christie’s style of governance made big headlines last year when it was revealed that to punish a political foe,<!–more–> some of his associates had created a massive traffic jam that lasted for days near the George Washington Bridge. Since then the spotlight has grown even bigger.
The latest news involves what appears to be a diversion of funds originally intended for a vital tunnel under the Hudson River to a bridge repair job that normally would have been paid for by state funds. In 2010, Mr. Christie canceled plans for the tunnel, a decision that itself was a huge mistake. The Times reportedlast week that the Securities and Exchange Commission and the office of the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., were investigating Mr. Christie’s efforts to use part of the $1.8 billion that belonged to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and was earmarked for the tunnel, to rebuild a deteriorating bridge known as the Pulaski Skyway.
Mr. Christie and his lawyers somehow persuaded the authority to agree that the skyway was an access road to the Lincoln Tunnel, which is under the authority’s control, and thus eligible for authority funds. The result is that the authority is paying to fix an 80-year-old bridge, relieving the governor of the need to raise New Jersey’s gas tax, the second lowest in the country, to generate state funds that could have been applied to the bridge work.
There are other instances of milking the authority to preserve Mr. Christie’s reputation as an anti-taxer. This month, The Times reported that the authority greatly overpaid for a 131-acre tract in the city of Bayonne, N.J. The infusion of authority funds helped keep the city from going bankrupt and costing the state millions.
Meanwhile, The Guardian reported last Thursday that Mr. Christie’s administration had favored Republican donors with over $1.25 billion in tax-break subsidies since 2012. It found that after Mr. Christie appointed a close ally to head a “bank for business,” 21 of the top 30 corporate subsidies went to ventures “involving firms that made significant donations to Republicans, or had senior executives who did.” Only one recipient in this top tier appeared to be strongly Democratic, The Guardian reported.
The Christie administration spokesman, Michael Drewniak, said that all of these tax subsidy deals were based on economic facts — promises of jobs, increases in tax payments, spending, and so on. “Political contributions are not considered,” he said. Mr. Christie has presented himself nationally as a straight-talking politician who can work with Democrats and attract voters from both parties. That image is taking a beating.