BY STEVE LONEGAN
Rush Limbaugh is singing the praises of Governor Christie’s budget. National pundits talk of “spending cuts.” Some enthusiasts have gone as far as starting a “Christie for President” chant.
So many words. But as the big government spin machine rolls on, what is really happening?
Sweep away the bluster and the attitude, and behind it all is the largest property tax hike New Jersey has ever seen.
As was said of Bill Clinton’s budget in 1996 — “The era of big government is over — and all the programs are in place.” Underneath the hype that cocoons Christie’s budget is the fact that it grows state government by more than 6 percent — more than double the proposed 2.5 percent cap on local governments.
Beyond the rhetoric of phantom “spending cuts” is the fact that there are no layoffs in the bloated government payroll that exploded under the direction of Govs. Christie Whitman, James McGreevy and Jon Corzine. Every entitlement program is not just in place, but expanded. Property tax relief to suburban and rural taxpayers is reduced by an astonishing $2.56 billion.
Under Christie, New Jersey’s own Cap and Trade program is being implemented. This program not only mirrors, to the word, President Obama’s proposal, but places an enormous cost of $70 million on utility ratepayers this year alone.
And that’s not the only plank of the Obama agenda in the Christie budget. This budget implements the “public option” — called “family care” — and expands it by an astonishing $107 million, as the Christie administration announces its participation in the Obama “catastrophic pool.”
Christie’s budget expands entitlement programs as well, with food stamp eligibility expanded to 185 percent of poverty level, up from the traditional 135 percent.
Under this budget, state government grows at three times the rate of inflation. No departments are eliminated. No departments are consolidated. All bureaucrats remain in place and the central planners are in their glory.
Limbaugh, in common with other Christie cheerleaders, claims that the budget cuts spending by $11 billion. These are the infamous “phantom cuts” I spoke of earlier.
Here are the facts: The budget adopted by the Legislature in June of 2009 was $29.8 billion. The Christie budget spends $28.3 billion. Where’s the $11 billion cut?
The cut appears to be $1.5 billion, but where does it come from? Some $840 million of the cut comes from property tax relief in the form of school aid to primarily suburban school districts. Another $420 million comes from cuts to municipalities. And $1.3 billion in property tax rebate checks are eliminated.
This all adds up to a massive suburban property tax hike.
Are these real spending cuts — as in cuts that reduce the size and scope of government — or simply a cover story that hides a 6 percent spending increase?
Whatever it is, Limbaugh is buying it. It doesn’t matter to him that aid to taxpayers is cut by $2.56 billion, that the budget is down only $1.5 billion, with the other $1 billion being shifted to funding bigger government in Trenton.
State funding for pre-school programs, primarily in what used to be referred to as urban Abbott districts, is at a record $613 million, up from $593 million under Corzine. Christie called this “babysitting” during the election, but under him this “babysitting” is averaging more than $12,000 per child.
It’s shocking when you consider that places like Hoboken — with six-figure median incomes — were actually classified as Abbott districts and receive millions in free day care provided by Christie’s pre-school program.
Christie’s budget sends a record 60 percent of our income tax to these districts. Under Corzine the amount was 54 percent. Christie is doing to the suburbs what Corzine would never have succeeded in doing.
To further burden taxpayers, the runaway debt continues with the state borrowing an additional $500 million in new debt for school construction — primarily in the Abbott districts — without voter approval. The beleaguered State Pension System receives not a cent of the state’s required contribution, down from the $160 million budgeted by Corzine in 2009. This is not a cut — this is kicking the can down the road.
In this fragile housing market, homeowners can expect their home values to drop even further as buyers discount purchase prices due to higher taxes. The loss of school and municipal aid will drive up property taxes at a record pace, resulting in a corresponding loss in property values. This means a loss of annual income and a loss of wealth.
At a time when our nation is struggling to recover from a recession, this budget drives a dagger into our economic recovery. I wonder if Rush Limbaugh supports such policies?
Voters should urge their legislators to vote no on the Christie budget. A vote for this budget is a vote for record property tax hikes.