While Gov. Chris Christie admitted in his annual budget address to the state legislature that, "like the majority of states in America," New Jersey "faces significant fiscal challenges," he has not acknowledged how those challenges impact
his potential campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.
Now, Christie's performance as a manager of the state's finances is the subject of a critical piece in an upcoming cover story in the conservative magazine National Review, reports Politico
"[S]ince winning re-election easily in 2013, Christie has watched his reputation tumble both in New Jersey and nationwide. This is partly the result of the political fallout from the so-called Bridgegate scandal," writes Steven Malanga, a contributor to City Journal.
"But, in addition, the governor’s efforts at cleaning up the state’s multitude of fiscal messes and recharging its economy have stalled, prompting criticisms that he isn’t doing enough to revive New Jersey," says Malanga in an article titled, "Chris Christie's New Jersey Problem."
Malanga, who has written extensively about the New Jersey economy, says that Christie still has time to demonstrate how destructive previous administrations' tax-and-spend policies have been, but he also must face up to his own mismanagement and failure to implement policies to stimulate the Garden State's economy.
"Christie’s administration could have achieved so much more. It might have demonstrated to the state’s cynical and beleaguered voters that it is possible to change the culture of Trenton, to overturn the greedy, profligate, dysfunctional politics that has so consistently earned New Jersey a reputation as one of the worst-managed states, and to set state government on a path toward financial stability and regulatory sanity," Malanga writes.
According to RealClearPolitics' recent average
of GOP presidential primary polls, Christie finds himself in sixth place, with 6.5 percent support, behind front-runners Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (15.8 percent) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (15 percent).
Christie also is receiving criticism for his failure to deal with the state's pension crisis, which, as a result of years of missed contributions, has resulted in a severely underfunded pension system.
Last week, a state Superior Court judge ruled that the governor violated a 2011 state law by failing to make the full contribution to the pension system. Christie and state lawmakers were ordered to pay nearly $1.6 billion into the pension fund, which resulted in the credit rating agency Moody's declaring the state "credit negative," reports The Bergen Record.
During Christie's five years as governor, the state has contributed $2.9 billion toward government employee pensions, but that is well short of the required $14.9 billion, according to Edward Buttimore
, former Administrator of Investigations in the New Jersey Attorney General's Office, Criminal Division.
"Gov. Christie, New Jersey has been downgraded eight times by Wall Street credit rating agencies and is now the second-lowest rated state behind anemic Illinois. It is clearly past time for New Jersey’s governor and legislature to stop using gimmicks to balance the budget and fund 100% of the annual required contributions to pensions," Bob Williams, a state budget expert and president of State Budget Solutions, tells Fox Business Network
Exemplifying the degree of the pension crisis is Atlantic City, which has seen its annual pension bill rise over 200 percent since 2006, from $6.5 million to $20.2 million, according to City Journal.
While Christie is not solely responsible for the dire straits in which the city finds itself, Stephen Eide of the Manhattan Institute,
which publishes City Journal, says Atlantic City is "prima facie evidence" of the state's failures.
"Municipalities are creatures of their state governments. A failing city is prima facie evidence of failed state policymaking. Atlantic City’s casino-focused economic development policy is a state policy: state voters authorized casinos during the mid-seventies, and about $200 million in casino tax revenues still flow into Trenton’s treasury each year," he writes.
In January, Christie brought in attorney Kevin Lavin to serve as Atlantic City's emergency manager, a decision which supporters contend show the governor's ability to make hard choices even if they result in political blowback.
"To me, it just bolsters [Christie’s] image of making tough decisions and demonstrating leadership," Matt Mackowiak,
a Republican strategist and president at Potomac Strategy Group, told Politico.
Regardless of whether the collapse of Atlantic City is a consequence of Christie's performance of governor or whether it stems from the decline of the gaming industry, it could be used by his primary opponents in the coming months.
"The problem of Atlantic City is not all Chris Christie’s fault, as the gaming industry has been eviscerated. But why Atlantic City matters for him running for president is that South Jersey has lost 10,000 jobs, and that kind of drain means other statewide economic indicators are dropping, and his primary opponents can very easily use those against him," said Brigid Harrison, political science and law professor at Montclair State University, in an interview with Politico.
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