The health-insurance-exchange legislation that Glyn applauds Christie for vetoing was passed, in part, because Christie had signaled support for Obamacare — which is also why Obama’s Health and Human Services Department sent seemingly compliant New Jersey an $8.5 million down payment. Christie’s veto came on the last possible day, only after weeks of conservative grumbling, and with a conciliatory message to Obama that “my Administration . . . stands ready to implement the Affordable Care Act if its provisions are ultimately upheld” by the Supreme Court. As Cato’s Michael Cannon observes, even if the justices uphold Obamacare, there is no requirement that states create its pernicious “exchange” bureaucracies. But Christie’s eagerness to submit is no surprise to Garden State conservatives. Proto notes that Christie speeches echo Obama’s desire for universal health insurance, and the governor consistently supports funding increases for “FamilyCare” — New Jersey’s version of the “public option,” which now extends taxpayer subsidies to families at 350 percent of the federal poverty level.
The brute fact is that, while Christie is not a hardcore statist, he is a mild progressive — which is to say, a “compassionate conservative” in the Bush mold who wants to make government “work,” not drastically reduce its size and scope. The governor likes government, particularly its “investments” in everything from green-energy boondoggles like his Offshore Wind Economic Development Act (because “climate change is real” and it is time to “defer to the experts” who say it is anthropogenic) to the creation of new state bureaucracies within existing state bureaucracies to provide government services for children and the elderly.
Thus, though New Jersey’s fiscal outlook continues to be bleak, with looming tens of billions in unfunded liabilities, Christie has just proposed to increase government spending. Not to worry though, because the governor insists, “We have left the dark times.”
Well . . . not exactly. To justify his increased spending, Christie did what progressives do: He declared we can afford all this government (and soon more) because, thanks to his bipartisan leadership, Jersey’s condition is so improved that growth will soon soar to 7.4 percent, with tax revenues consequently surging. This week, however, Moody’s burst his balloon. The investors’ service projected growth at only 3 percent for fiscal year 2013 — about what it is now — and surmised that the governor had significantly overstated revenues in trumpeting the state’s supposed recovery. (In 2011, Christie’s second year in office, both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s downgraded New Jersey’s credit rating to Aa3 — only California and Illinois rank lower.)
Then the next shoe dropped: The state’s legislative budget officer (New Jersey’s analogue to the federal CBO) announced that revenue would fall $1.3 billion short of Christie’s projections — prompting the governor, with his usual grace, to inveigh, “Why would anybody with a functioning brain believe this guy?” and to belittle the budget officer as “the Dr. Kevorkian of the numbers.” By the next day, at least some functioning brains decided “Dr. Kevorkian” wasn’t so inept after all: Christie’s state treasurer conceded that revenues would come up nearly $700 million short of what Christie projected just two months ago. The treasurer also mentioned in passing that Christie will fill part of the gaping budget hole by diverting $260 million in transportation funds to other spending needs . . . and then borrowing $260 million in order to preserve the transportation spending. Christie, in fine Keynesian fettle, explains that this government spending cannot be cut because it is necessary to put people to work — New Jersey’s unemployment rate, at 9.1 percent, being even worse than the nation’s.
Borrowing more millions to pay current operating expenses — heaping more exorbitant debt, with interest, onto the backs of New Jersey’s children — is exactly the practice Christie lambasted his statist predecessor over. He promised to bring it to an end. But now the dilemma: Christie wants to keep his conservative cheerleaders cheering by cutting income taxes while preserving his “reach across the aisle” cred by not only maintaining but expanding the welfare state. As always, the “have it all” fantasy relies on the mirage of epic growth. When that growth inevitably fails to materialize, a governor can either get real or start playing budget voodoo with borrowed money. The “consistent conservative” has made his choice.
I’m farfromthefirsttoobserve that there is much less to Chris Christie than meets the conservative ear. A blue state could — and usually does — do a lot worse than Christie for its governor. But if “Christie is one of us,” then a lot of “us” aren’t.