When Mr. (Chris) Christie took office in January 2010, New Jersey — like many other states — was in dire fiscal straits thanks to the effects of a depressed economy. Unlike the federal government, states are required by their constitutions to run more or less balanced budgets every year (although there is room for accounting gimmicks), so like other governors, Mr. Christie was forced to engage in belt-tightening.
So far so normal: while Mr. Christie has made a lot of noise about his tough budget choices, other governors have done much the same. Nor has he eschewed budget gimmicks: like earlier New Jersey governors, Mr. Christie has closed budget gaps in part by deferring required contributions to state pension funds, which is in effect a form of borrowing against the future, and he has also sought to paper over budget gaps by diverting money from places like the Transportation Trust Fund.
If there is a distinctive feature to New Jersey’s belt-tightening under Mr. Christie, it is its curiously selective nature. The governor was willing to cancel the desperately needed project to build another rail tunnel linking the state to Manhattan, but has invested state funds in a megamall in the Meadowlands and a casino in Atlantic City.
Also, while much of his program involves spending cuts, he has effectively raised taxes on low-income workers and homeowners by slashing tax credits. But he vetoed a temporary surcharge on millionaires while refusing to raise the state’s gasoline tax, which is the third-lowest in America and far below tax rates in neighboring states. Only some people, it seems, are expected to make sacrifices.
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