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Hope and Change in New Jersey


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A decade of Democratic governance has left New Jersey in terrible shape. Incumbent governor Jon Corzine is in danger of losing, even though the state went 57–42 for Obama. Joe Biden and Bill Clinton have campaigned with Corzine this week — and Obama himself visited the state yesterday – in an effort to drag Corzine across the finish line. New Jerseyans should block their path.

Corzine looks safer today than he did three months ago, when polls showed Republican Chris Christie leading by double-digit margins. Since then, a string of attack ads from the deep-pocketed Corzine and a challenge from independent candidate Chris Daggett have cut into Christie’s lead. Some Republicans have criticized Christie, a former U.S. attorney, for running a lackadaisical campaign. His backers reply that campaigning is hard when your opponent is using his Goldman Sachs millions to outspend you three-to-one. No matter: Christie should spend the remaining days hammering away single-mindedly on a simple theme: A vote for Corzine (or Daggett) is a vote for higher taxes.

According to The Tax Foundation, New Jersey’s state-and-local tax burden is the worst in the country. Its tax climate for business ranks dead last. New Jersey residents pay the highest property taxes in the nation. The voters are fed up. In poll after poll, they name taxes as their top concern, and Corzine’s record on this issue is abysmal and unpopular.

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Corzine’s first budget increased the state sales tax from 6 to 7 percent, promising that half of the revenue would go toward property-tax rebates. Since then, he has pared back those rebates — the average New Jersey property owner paid more than $7,000 last year — while piling on more tax increases. Under Corzine, taxes on top wage earners, alcohol, cigarettes, and businesses have all gone up. His latest proposal would raise taxes on gasoline.

Contrary to his independent label, Daggett sounds a lot like Corzine, particularly on taxes. Like Corzine, Daggett has said he would consider raising the gas tax. Daggett’s property-tax plan sounds familiar, too: He would raise the sales tax and use part of the proceeds to fund property-tax relief. The problem, as New Jerseyans have learned under Corzine, is that property-tax relief is easy to suspend when the state runs into budget problems, while the new sales taxes stay in place.

The Corzine era has been one of metastasizing government, a growing tax burden, and astonishing public corruption. (This July, 44 people were arrested in a bribery sting that netted several mayors and led to an FBI raid on a member of Corzine’s cabinet.) It is no wonder, then, that the state concurrently experienced negative state-to-state migration rates as people decamped to more favorable tax climates. New Jersey once had 15 seats in the U.S. House. That number is projected to drop to 12 in the 2010 reapportionment.

Nor is it any wonder that Corzine has sought to change the subject with a series of attacks on Christie ranging from the hypocritical to the absurd. His campaign hit Christie over a loan Christie made to a colleague in the U.S. attorney’s office, which he failed to report on his taxes or mandatory financial-disclosure forms. If the devil can cite scripture for his purpose, then Jon Corzine, who once forgave a $470,000 loan to his girlfriend when he was a senator and she was the president of the largest state-employees’ union in New Jersey, can certainly chide Chris Christie for making improper loans, but one must still admire the gall.

And because Christie had the temerity to point out that the astronomical cost of health insurance in New Jersey is a function of the state’s onerous insurance regulations, the Corzine campaign tried to portray him as indifferent to the plight of women with breast cancer. (A disgusting smear: Christie’s mother battled the disease.) New Jersey requires every health-insurance plan to cover things like substance-abuse counseling, contraceptives, in vitro fertilization, chiropractors, and — yes — mammograms. There are 45 mandates in all. Christie argued that consumers should not be forced to buy a one-size-fits-all insurance policy designed in Trenton, but rather that they should be allowed to buy insurance that meets their own needs (and budgets).

Aided by limitless funds and a sympathetic local media, Corzine has fought hard to make this election about health care instead of taxes and corruption. He knows that if it is about the latter, he loses. If Christie can withstand the assault on health care, it will signal to Washington that Republicans can support consumer-driven health-care reforms without sustaining fatal damage. Combined with a win for Bob McDonnell in Virginia, a Christie victory could give vulnerable Democrats pause, slowing the march to Obamacare. That’s one reason Obama was in the state this week, trying to block the change that New Jersey needs.
    




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