Chris Christie delivered his annual State of the State address yesterday, with two goals in mind:
Put the best possible spin on his lousy economic record, and
Advertise his alleged presidential worthiness by reciting the standard stump rhetoric about the promise of America.
Goal No. 2 has become an urgent matter, now that Jeb and Mitt have accelerated the ’16 competition by poaching on the big donors. Hence, these speech lines from the Jersey governor: “America remains a country ill at ease …. We are a nation beset by anxiety …. America’s leadership in the world is called into question.” Hence, the travelogue: “I saw it on the streets of Chicago …. I heard it from farmers in Kansas …. I felt it from veterans in Maine.”
And, of course, the Concerned Citizen quote: “But the wisest words came from an 82-year-old woman in Florida. She grabbed my hand and asked me a simple but powerful question. ‘What’s happened to our country? We used to control events. Now events control us.'” (Politicians always seem to meet the perfect person who utters the perfect comment that perfectly mirrors the politicians’ rhetoric. Amazing how that happens.)
Anyway. The presidential stump rhetoric was just eyewash, an attempt to divert attention from his New Jersey baggage, his demonstrably unimpressive economic stewardship. How can a governor sell himself as a prospective chief executive when he doesn’t have an executive record to tout?
The answer: Paint the Jersey stats in the best possible way, omitting everything that doesn’t fit the spin, and hope that people won’t notice the snow job. But alas, we’ve noticed. Allow me to annotate his address. His words appear in italics.
The state of our state continues to get better.
Better?! He forgot to mention that, during his tenure, the Jersey poverty rate has increased from 10.3 percent to 11.4 percent; according to U.S. Census data, New Jersey is one of only three states where poverty has gone up during the past six years. He also forgot to mention that, during his tenure, Jersey’s credit rating has been downgraded eight times (twice last summer alone) – an all-time record for a Jersey governor. And that Jersey now has the second lowest bond rating in the nation.
New Jersey has made progress — growing our economy, creating jobs …
He forgot to mention that, during his tenure, private-sector job creation in Jersey has increased by only 3.8 percent – tied for second worst in the nation with Mississippi. He forgot to mention that, over the past year, Jersey’s rate of job growth ranked last in the contiguous U.S.
… and the unemployment rate continues to steadily go down.
He forgot to mention that it’s nearly a point higher than the national average.
Despite so much evidence of an improving New Jersey, it has become fashionable in some quarters to run down our state.
It’s New Jersey’s citizens who are running down the state. In a Monmouth Unversity/Asbury Park Press poll, conducted in November, 50 percent of respondents said they want to leave. Their top reason: the tax climate, particularly the high property taxes. Meanwhile, a nonpartisan group, The Tax Foundation, ranks New Jersey 50th on its index of favorable state tax climates.
Of all the challenges we face, one of the largest and most immediate, is our obligation to provide pension and health benefits for state and local employes …. Today, the health of the pension system is stronger than it was five years ago.
He forgot to mention the 2010 law (he signed it) that requires him to make steady payments into the state employe pension system. He forgot to mention that he has since reneged on that commitment. During ’14, he cut $2.4 billion in promised contributions. Under Christie, the state’s unfunded pension liability has swelled to $83 billion – double the previous estimates, which had omitted the unfunded health benefits.
In Newark, Paterson, Atlantic City, Toms River, Trenton, and Jersey City, a single (drug treatment) location will be run by a non-profit organization …
This was the only time he uttered the words “Atlantic City.” Somehow he omitted any mention of that town’s economic debacle, most notably the failure of the Revel hotel and casino (which he hailed in 2012 as “a turning point for Atlantic City and a clear sign that people once again have faith in the city’s ability to come back”). And it’s not just the town, it’s the region. Deborah Figart, a labor economist at Stockton College, recently told the Star Ledger newspaper that 15,000 businesses are adversely affected by the closure of casinos: “You throw a pebble in the water, and you watch those ripples. Those ripples are going to (extend to) northern New Jersey and to the rest of the country.”
By the way, Christie also forgot to mention that his state’s Transportation Trust Fund, which is supposed to finance road and bridge repairs, is dead broke. And despite his vow to make government “smarter, more efficient, and more targeted,” he’s still being probed by the feds for his handling of the Hurricane Sandy money.
So I totally understand why Christie declined to invite any Jersey reporters to his pre-speech off-the-record sitdown. Only members the national press were allowed into the room – in other words, the people who knew the least about Jersey, who’d be most susceptible to his spin.
“This was a wise move,” Star Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine wrote. “The locals would have burst out laughing.”