Last week, Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) signed into law a plan that limits the ability of New Jersey’s public employees to collectively bargain for health care benefits, and cuts the paychecks of those workers in order to increase their contributions towards their health care and pensions. All of this was done under the guise of a budget crisis.
But at the same time that he’s asking the Garden State’s public employees to sacrifice in order to bring his state’s finances into order, Christie has let the wealthiest New Jersey residents off the hook, vowing to veto a millionaires’ surtax favored by the state’s Democrats. (A recent poll showed that nearly 60 percent of New Jersey residents approve of the surtax.)
But that isn’t the only way in which Christie is favoring the state’s wealthy over the rest of its population. New Jersey allows the governor to exercise a line-item veto over the budget, and last week Christie released his edits of the budget passed by the state legislature. As the Newark Star-Ledger reported, Christie saw fit to nix health care funding for low-income workers, tax credits for the working poor, and money for AIDS relief and mental-health services, while adding in money for school districts in some of “the wealthiest towns in the state”:
[Christie] mowed down a series of Democratic add-ons, including $45 million in tax credits for the working poor, $9 million in health care for the working poor, $8 million for women’s health care, another $8 million in AIDS funding and $9 million in mental-health services.
But the governor added $150 million in school aid for the suburbs, including the wealthiest towns in the state. That is enough to restore all the cuts just listed.
Senate President Stephen Sweeny (D), who is facing considerable blowback after collaborating with Christie on the pension deal, criticized the governor’s set of priorities. “[F]or him to punish people to prove his political point? He’s just a rotten bastard to do what he did,” Sweeny said.
Of course, providing more education funding is a good thing, but there’s no need to do it by raiding programs on which low-income workers depend. As I’ve noted before, adopting the millionaire tax that Christie is so dead set against would enable him to reverse all of the education cuts he’s proposed, with millions of dollars left to spare. In another signal of Christie’s priorities, he has recently been vociferously defending his decision to provide a $400 million bailout to a giant corporate mall complex.