"The defenders of the status quo will start chattering as soon as I leave this chamber. They'll say, 'The problems are not that bad; listen to me, I can spare you the pain and sacrifice.'"
- Gov. Chris Christie
Well, he got that right. Christie's plan to close a $2 billion deficit in the current year's state budget, announced to a joint session of the Legislature on Thursday, will be painful for many - and criticized by many. But the pain is at least spread widely. And Christie is right about this: There is no way out of New Jersey's financial mess that doesn't involve pain.
And this speech was simply about scouring state coffers to find an additional $2 billion this fiscal year. Next year's budget, which Christie will present next month, starts out with an $11 billion hole.
On Thursday, Christie declared "a state of fiscal emergency" and issued an executive order freezing state spending. In all, 375 state programs will be cut or eliminated. Unspent balances in programs will be diverted back to the state treasury.
Christie's cut of $475 million in school aid will likely be the most controversial of the cuts. But rather than cut school aid across the board - which he conceded some might find fairer - the governor is cutting aid based on school districts' surpluses. More than 500 districts will lose aid - but no district will lose aid in an amount greater than its current surplus.
Seems fair and reasonable to us.
The state's colleges and universities will lose $62.1 million in state aid, but these cuts, too, will be tied to existing surpluses. Hospital charity care, clean energy, the Office of the Public Advocate, New Jersey Transit and more will all be cut. Ouch. Former Gov. Jon S. Corzine's program to give businesses $3,000 for each new hire will be eliminated, saving $57.9 million.
Christie presented it all in a powerful, effective speech that virtually dared opponents to challenge him. "For those who continue to defend the old ways of selfishly protecting turf, who stay in the corner defending parochial interests, please be on notice - people of goodwill who want a better, stronger New Jersey will band together to come into those corners and drag you to the center of the room to make our state the place we know it can be," Christie said.
We have our own issues with the new governor. His apparent willingness to extend gambling to the state's racetracks - a 180-degree switch from what he said during the campaign - remains extremely troubling.
But this was a good speech. One New Jersey residents needed to hear. And, more importantly, one the Legislature needed to hear. Financial disaster looms for New Jersey. There is simply no way to please everyone and hurt no one if the state is ever going to get its balance sheet in order.