When last we visited Chris Christie, he was putting a stake through the heart of a desperately needed rail tunnel to Manhattan, the largest of a series of so-called cost-cutting measures that have made the porcine New Jersey governor a hero of the fiscal Scrooges of the right-wing.
But back in the Garden State, the view is rather different.
New Jersey is the most populous state and its northernmost counties among the most affluent. But despite having one of the heaviest income and property tax loads anywhere, the state has been in the fiscal doldrums for years, its schools are failing and its infrastructure collapsing. Jim Florio, the last governor who tried to raise taxes, was unceremoniously booted out of office in 1994 after one term. His successor, Christine Todd Whitman, was the last Republican in the statehouse until Christie's election last year.
Not surprisingly, Christie talks out of both sides of his mouth when it come to dishing out the pain.
Millionaires, for example, have been unscathed while public schools have been stripped of resources and personnel. The state lost federal matching funds for family planning because of a Christie veto, a precious $400 million was lost because of a bungled application for Race to the Top education money, and $60 million to weatherize homes evaporated.
Meanwhile, the state has had to return $271 million to the feds because of the canceled rail tunnel project, as good an example of Penny Wise Pound Foolish to come down the pike in some time. (Okay, Christie hasn't asked anyone to sell their kidneys.)
As anyone who has driven or taken a train into Manhattan from North Jersey knows, the region’s transportation infrastructure is stretched to the breaking point. Some 270,000 people make the commute each weekday and the region desperately needs a third rail tunnel under the Hudson River because Amtrak and regional trains are full during rush hours and the two existing tunnels, one of them a century old, are at capacity.
A new tunnel would have provided room for 70,000 more commuters, but would come at a hefty price: $8.7 billion with the feds, New York and New Jersey each contributing about $3 billion, but New Jersey would be saddled with cost overruns because the tunnel would mostly benefit Garden State commuters.
All that noted, the project would have created 6,000 construction jobs, as well as provide a much needed alternative if one or both of the existing tunnels would have to be shut down. It also would have positioned the region for future growth, and by one estimate, would have lead to the creation of 40,000 permanent jobs.
Christie probably could have saved the project by raising New Jersey's ridiculously low gasoline tax, which at 14.5 percent per gallon is the third lowest in the U.S. and hasn't been increased since 1988. But that would be political suicide, and the guv sure isn't willing to shoulder any of the pain that he is so cavalierly inflicting on others.
Meanwhile, Christie has continued his spendthrift ways as governor.
He regularly exceeded his travel budget while the top federal lawman in New Jersey, and has arrived this fall at football games at the University of Delaware, his alma mater and mine, in a four-vehicle motorcade with police motorcycle escorts. By comparison, some guy by the name of Joe Biden, who also went to Delaware, shows up in a single vehicle with two or three Secret Service dudes.As The New York Times noted in an editorial, at least New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg "is thinking big about the region’s economic future."
His transit gurus are proposing an alternative tunnel at a mere $5.3 billion as an extension of the city's subway system into New Jersey. The deep discount is because much of the drilling for such a subway tunnel is already underway in Manhattan's Far West Side.
No word yet from Christie on whether he'll get on board.