Steve Lonegan Calls Chris Christie a Faux-Conservative

Dave Weigel notes that Steve Lonegan, the former mayor of Bogota who ran to Chris Christie’s right in New Jersey’s Republican gubernatorial primary last year, has been taking potshots at his erstwhile rival. A Christie critic in the comments section writes the following:

The governor recently acquiesced on about $75M for Democrat pet prgorams, but that is a drop in the bucket compared to the 6% increase in spending on state government proposed in the Christie budget. Further, there are not tax cuts in the Christie budget. There is a massive $2.56B property tax increase, as well as hikes in unemployment taxes, a hospital bed tax as well as other fee increases.

When you speak to conservatives outside of New Jersey surely they are not interested in facts. They have a narrative to tell (or should I say sell) in order to build the Republican Party back up. But if they lived in New Jersey they wouldn’t be so fast to fawn over Christie who’s good with a sound bite but offers little for conservatives substantively. 

I find this analysis interesting. Though the governor in New Jersey is fairly powerful, he certainly doesn’t have absolute authority to dictate spending patterns. Rather, he is obligated to work with state legislators, many of whom don’t share Gov. Christie’s priorities for the state. Moreover, it seems reasonable that addressing the state’s long-term fiscal crunch would require some measure of burden-sharing. 

A number of liberal observers, including Jon Shure of CBPP, have observed that Christie has proposed trimming spending on the EITC. This has caused considerable consternation:

Despite the governor’s stated aversion to tax increases to help fill the state’s gaping shortfall, the budget plan he negotiated with leading lawmakers — which the full legislature will vote on next Monday — raises taxes on families with children earning under $48,000.  The increase comes in the form of a reduction in the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which will take $45 million from 485,000 families.  (The budget also eliminates a property tax rebate for seniors, renters, and homeowners with incomes below $75,000, among other cuts.)

His budget reduces the state tax credit for lower-income workers, known as the Earned Income tax Credit, a move Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver called “a tax increase for the working poor.”

Beth DeFalco of the Associated Press describes the planned cuts in March:

The maximum state credit for a single parent with two children would drop about $250 from $1,259 to $1,007. The eligibility would remain the same and depends on family size. A single parent with two children earning less than $40,363 would qualify.

Cash welfare assistance for adults without children will also disappear and state health insurance for low-income families will be reduced to exclude any more adults from participating in the NJ FamilyCare program.

The program offers free or subsidized health insurance coverage to low-income children and their parents.

My guess is that the Christie administration has thought through the cuts carefully. I look forward to hearing more.

One thing that is worth noting: many have characterized this EITC cut as a tax increase. In a similar vein, many have described efforts to trim tax expenditures for high earners as a tax increase as well. This is one of the perils of conducting social policy through the tax code. 

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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