Yesterday was a pretty good day for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. As the video of his put-up-or-shut-up comments about Warren Buffett made the rounds, Quinnipiac released a poll showing Christie to be the favorite of possible Republican “white knights,” beating out Jeb Bush and Sarah Palin. Then the Republican candidates debated (again)–almost always a boon for any Republican not up on that stage.
But there was more to his Buffett shaming than simple grandstanding, and it revealed something about Christie’s own political prospects. I’ve written before about how Christie’s primary challenge in New Jersey was to summon the political capital necessary to continue enacting his much-needed reform agenda and win reelection as the state’s Democrats began to pull away from him. Christie has benefited from the cooperation of Democratic Senate President Stephen Sweeney and the vocal support of Newark Mayor Cory Booker, but they won’t be at his side when he runs for a second term.
November, meanwhile, dashed Christie’s hopes of getting more help from Republicans, as the Democrats held steady their majority in the state Senate and gained one seat in the Assembly.
As Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, told NJ Spotlight:
“It is a very disappointing night for Gov. Christie,” said Dworkin, adding the GOP should have gained as many as six seats. “He outraised the Democrats by millions of dollars. He put his high approval rating and his personal reputation on the line by going on network television in New York and Philadelphia. And in the end, he wasn’t able to even keep the status quo in the legislature, much less win the several seats that Republicans might have expected given his efforts.”
State Republicans were no more popular and the state legislature would move no closer to giving Christie an allied chamber. What’s more, the paradox of recovery threatened to sap Christie’s momentum further: as his reform measures began to work, the electorate’s appetite for sacrifice would diminish. So Christie had to make the argument that the state was not only moving in the right direction, but that the state’s residents are already beginning to reap the benefits of the first two years of Christie’s term. So on Tuesday, he announced his budget, and said this:
In this budget: I propose that we provide tax relief to every New Jersey citizen – through the first year of an across-the-board 10 percent cut in their income taxes; and increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor. The people of New Jersey have suffered for too long under the burden of high taxes, it is time for real relief.
I propose that we increase school aid, for the second year in a row, by over $200 million, to $8.8 billion, a record amount of state aid to education. There is no priority more important than educating our children, so let’s reform our schools and give them the tools to be great.
I propose that we more than double the state’s contribution to our pension system. Last year, we enacted landmark reform that showed the nation that we can come together on a bi-partisan basis to manage our long-term liabilities. In my budget, the state will make good on its obligation to fund our pension system….
So this package provides relief for every New Jerseyan, up and down the income scale. It recognizes that New Jersey’s tax situation had gotten out of control and begins to bring it back under our control. It recognizes that every New Jerseyan has shared in the sacrifice that was necessary to begin the New Jersey Comeback and that every New Jerseyan should share in the benefit we’re beginning to feel.
And that is really what his Buffett comment was about. Buffett has adopted the Democrats’ class warfare terminology, splitting the public into those who deserve government largesse and those who should pay even more to fund it. “Everyone deserves to have the government responsive to their concerns and needs,” Christie countered.
Christie is so popular among conservatives in part for this reason. He has shown conservative reform works and is the best antidote to the overspending, cronyism, and political patronage that wrecked the state’s finances in the first place.