Governor's Race Neck and Neck in High Tax New Jersey

New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine has hit some bumps on the road to re-election -- and he’s trying to smooth the way with money from his own pockets.

Corzine’s popularity hit the skids because he ran up the state budget year after year. In 2009, the state received $2 billion in federal stimulus money and the budget was balanced for the first time in years. Still, New Jersey ranks the highest in the nation in property taxes and its public schools have some of the highest spending in the country without consistently good results. Also, the state’s infrastructure has been further neglected during Corzine’s tenure.

Residents have been voting with their feet during the last decade.  Since 2000, an estimated 250,000 residents have left the state, along with many small businesses, which are pummeled by the escalating progressive tax rates. By now the largest employer in New Jersey is the state of New Jersey. Those of us who remain continue to struggle with the punishing taxes -- now the highest in the country. It’s not just the property taxes; it’s also the state income tax, the sales tax, inheritance taxes, and every other tax you can think of -- all increasing.

Things are bad enough that when you pick up New Jersey magazine at the check-out counter, you find that  most of the ads in the back pages belong to developers promoting properties in Pennsylvania and Delaware, states that aren’t as punitive with their residents when it comes to taxes. “Come to Bucks County! We’re near Princeton but you don’t get scalped," they seem to say.

The Republican candidate, former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, is running on the tax issue. His campaign motto is “providing real property tax relief." Christie is calling for reductions in state spending, pension reform, and requirements for public employees to contribute more toward their benefits.  In a state where the government is the largest employer, this has negatively affected Christie’s campaign.

Unfortunately, during an October 9 interview Christie said he will “put plans for sweeping tax cuts and spending increases on hold until the economy begins to recover” -- whenever that may be.

But Corzine and Christie are not the only two candidates. A good showing by independent Chris Daggett has placed him in the headlines. He is strong among Angry Jerseyans -- voters who feel that the state has been run for decades by party bosses and special interests and who find the two-party system broken beyond repair. Nowhere was this shown more clearly than in Dagget’s endorsement by the Star-Ledger, which for the first time in recent history endorsed a non-Democrat:

The newspaper’s decision is less a rejection of Gov. Jon Corzine and Republican Chris Christie than a repudiation of the parties they represent, both of which have forfeited any claim to the trust and confidence of the people of New Jersey. They share responsibility for the state’s current plight.

Only by breaking the hold of the Democratic and Republican mandarins on the governor’s office and putting a rein on their power will the state have any hope for the kind of change needed to halt its downward economic, political and ethical spiral.

New Jersey needs radical change in Trenton. Neither of the major parties is likely to provide it. Daggett’s election would send shock waves through New Jersey’s ossified political system and, we believe, provide a start in a new direction.

It would signal the entrenched leadership of both parties — and the interest groups they regularly represent — that an ill-served and angry electorate demands something better.

The lamentable fact is that the two parties are, themselves, little more than narrow special interests. Their competition for short-term political and/or monetary gain has jeopardized the state’s long-term economic health and left it with a tarnished national reputation.

The Star-Ledger’s choice of “none of the above” when it comes to the two-party system is not simply a mark of desperation (which many of us registered voters feel when we pay our taxes); it is a reflection of the deeply-entrenched problems with New Jersey politics.

Powerful public employee unions (teachers, state employees) get their demands met on pay, pension, and benefits time after time. The only difference between a Republican governor or a Democrat governor is whether one will pay for those demands with debt or with tax increases.

So, who will be the next governor of New Jersey?

On one hand, you have the Star-Ledger saying that Corzine’s money is fueling his comeback. He is outspending Christie by a 3:1 ratio and Dagget by nearly 20:1. The Quinnipiac University poll released on October 28 has Corzine leading at 43%, with Christie at 38% and Dagget at 13%. However, a Rasmussen poll released the day before shows Christie leading at 46% and Corzine with 43%, while Dagget’s support is down to 7%.

After living here in this state for over twenty years, I don’t expect that anyone other than Corzine will win. The unions will come through for him in the end and put him over the top.