Gov. Chris Christie likes to claim that he hasn't raised taxes during his four years in office. But the burden on New Jersey's working families, those in the working and middle classes, has gone up. So what gives?
The fact is, the governor is trying to be cute here. While he hasn't increased individual tax rates, he's cut rebates and credits that help working families. The result, of course, is that New Jersey families are paying more in taxes, but he gets to claim that he hasn't raised them.
Take property taxes. In 2009, while he was running for governor, he promised property-tax relief. In fact, it was pretty much what he campaigned on. At the time, Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine expressed doubt, since Christie would give no specifics about his property-tax plans. Christie also promised that he'd maintain the Homestead Rebate, which offers direct property tax relief to New Jersey's middle-class families. Christie even attacked his primary opponent, Steve Lonegan, in a campaign ad after Lonegan proposed eliminating the rebate. But when Christie became governor, he slashed the rebate. The result is that under Christie, the average homeowner is now paying a property tax bill that is 19 percent higher than it was when Christie made his campaign promises.
Let's have a look at another tax bill that's up under Christie. In 2010, he cut the Earned Income Tax Credit, a program with historically popular bipartisan support. Ronald Reagan once called it a "sweeping victory for fairness" and "perhaps the biggest antipoverty program in our history."
The EITC offers low-income workers a tax credit, helping them make ends meet when their wages don't keep up with the cost of living. Studies show that workers who earn the EITC increase their productivity at work. Most EITC earners receive the credit for only a few years before they've worked their way to a salary above EITC qualification. Children whose parents receive the EITC are more likely to do better in school, attend college, and earn more as adults themselves.
The EITC is a program that has the power to end the cycle of poverty in low-income families. By shrinking the size of the EITC and refusing to restore the credit over the past three years, Christie has effectively raised taxes on the working families who can least afford it.
It is clear that despite Christie's claims, New Jersey's middle-class and working class families are paying higher taxes and being asked to sacrifice quite a lot. Meanwhile, Christie vetoed the restoration of the millionaire's tax.
So, has anyone escaped paying higher taxes under Christie? Only if you consider corporations people, as Christie's old friend Mitt Romney does. Christie has given $2.3 billion in tax cuts, subsidies and other incentives to the business community.
To put it into perspective, in the entire decade before Christie's term in office, New Jersey granted $1.2 billion in corporate tax breaks. That's a pretty stark illustration of Christie's agenda: Corporate welfare is a higher priority than the well-being of New Jersey's working families.
Christie's claim about not raising taxes might be technically true, but context tells a much different story. He's protected millionaires and given billions to the business community, but taxes are up for New Jersey's working families. At the rate Christie's going, New Jersey definitely can't afford four more years.
Charles Wowkanech is president of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO.