New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has made a name for himself as a “strict fiscal conservative,” by slashing spending. The governor has championed budget cuts that eliminated hundreds of millons of dollars in education funding and is now taking aim at public workers, wanting to instate cutbacks that could almost quadruple health care costs for public workers.
Yet there appears to be one project that Christie does not mind subsidizing to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. For years, a group of developers have been building the Xanadu Meadowlands complex, a massive retail and entertainment complex — complete with indoor water park, skating rink, and 600-foot ski slope — that has been under construction for the past three governors. Yet despite $1.9 billion being spent on the project with little progress, Christie recently struck a deal with the company that built the Mall of America to rescue the project, at huge taxpayer expense.
Late last month, the deal was announced and Xanadu was renamed the American Dream @ Meadowlands. As a part of the deal, Christie will have the state up to $200 million in financing and will also forfeit a similar amount of sales tax revenue:
Though the Christie administration has criticized Xanadu, once calling it a “failed business model,” and the governor said he was uncomfortable getting the state involved in private development, the state would provide $180 million to $200 million in low-interest financing and forfeit a similar amount in future sales-tax revenue. The administration has argued that the project is too big and too far along to let it lie fallow.
“At a time when the governor has taken money from renewable energy and schools, he’s bailing out an ugly mall,” said the Sierra Club’s Jeff Tittel, who is critical of the deal. Christie has defended the investment, saying the mall will “become what it was envisioned to be: an extraordinary destination. It’s getting a makeover, a new name, a new image…and we’ll make sure the sales tax revenue comes back to make this a successful project, get our investment back with responsible partners that we can trust.”
Yet even if Christie does think the boondoggle project — which has been in endlessly in construction since 2003 — will actually pay off in the end, one has to wonder why he feels like the mall is a valuable investment for the state’s taxpayers, but not schools, hard-working middle class public employees, or women’s health or the Hudson Tunnel.