It looks like not even Chris Christie can manage to say the words "Jersey Comeback" with a straight face anymore. The banner that he's been using since the spring to sell a purported return to boom times has been quietly removed from town hall meetings and events.
It's a concession to nonpartisan experts like Moody's Analytics, which cautioned that the governor was at best overstating the pace of New Jersey's recovery - and it's also a belated concession to reality. New Jersey has the fourth highest unemployment rate in the nation. In July, it actually lost 7,000 jobs. The state is a dismal 47th in economic growth, and the state's disappointing revenue collections reflect that. Just last week a new report came out showing the state has brought in $250 million less than Christie predicted.
Any expert could tell you that Christie's math was never going to add up. He was so dogged about the comeback fantasy because it provided a rationale to double down on his policies of tax cuts for the wealthy and budget cuts for everyone else - his proposed budget in February gave 40 percent of his tax cuts to New Jersey's richest 1 percent. And to get that enacted he needed the last three years to be a success.
But here's what we know: Christie has gotten most of what he wanted the last three years. He forced the layoffs of thousands of teachers, police officers and firefighters, scaled back investments in education and killed infrastructure programs while cutting taxes for the 1 percent and launching an ambitious corporate welfare agenda in the name of job growth.
However, by any reasonable estimation, these policies have failed, and working families know it. The working poor have seen their taxes go up $300, as much as a full week's salary for some of those workers, and the middle-class is paying 20 percent more in property taxes because of cuts to local governments and rebate programs. They have read in the news about $1.7 billion in subsidies the state has awarded to corporations like Citigroup, Prudential and the developers of the Revel casino to ostensibly create jobs - but they also know that nearly 10 percent of New Jersey's workers still can't find work. And they understand that cities like Newark and Trenton struggle to attract businesses when their streets are growing increasingly unsafe due to mass police layoffs.
New Jersey needs pragmatic, results-driven leadership that focuses on creating strong communities that are attractive to live in and to do business. That means investing in the fundamentals like education, which has seen more than $3.6 billion in cuts over the governor's term. It means embracing public investments like the ARC tunnel, which could have created 50,000 desperately needed jobs. It means fully making the state's public colleges and universities a powerful engine for economic growth by restoring the 15 percent cut the governor made to higher education when he took he took office.
But to do any of these things, Trenton must put aside three years of failed policies. The Christie tax cut for the richest 1 percent that has cost New Jersey nearly $3 billion must end. Where business tax cuts and subsidies have proven ineffective, they must be scrapped, and loopholes that allow corporations to evade paying state taxes must be closed.
Better Choices for New Jersey, a coalition of more than 80 organizations, has put together a plan that could generate $1.3 billion in revenue that would allow the state to launch a real jobs program and invest in New Jersey's most valuable asset: its working families. By asking corporations and the wealthy to finally pay their fair share, New Jersey can begin to invest in a comeback we can actually believe in - but we need leaders with courage and vision to make it happen.
Bill Holland is director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance and a coordinator of the Better Choices for New Jersey campaign.