Hey Christie: Do the math

This is commentary from political blogger and cartoonist Rob Tornoe. 

While it’s practically a force of habit for our politicians and pundits to spin the truth on everything from who won a debate to who’s to blame for sputtered legislation, it’s very hard to spin the truth when it comes to math, something Chris Christie is becoming very familiar with.

Last week, the Department of Treasury released new revenue collection numbers that show that while collections have improved this month, they are still well below Christie’s extremely optimistic budget predictions.

I won’t bore you with the numbers (I’m a cartoonist, not an economist), but basically it’s looking more and more like Christie won’t be able to afford to muscle through those top-heavy tax cuts he’s been pining about for the better part of a year.

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Basically, for the fiscal year that began in July, tax collections are down 4 percent from Christie’s predictions, which amounts to a $175 million shortfall. Add that to the more than $250 million shortfall from the last budget cycle, and you can quickly see that we’ve completely run off the road.

Not only that, the Wall Street Journal reports that New Jersey is one of only nine states that actually saw a decline in sales-tax revenue this spring, which is a terrible sign for the fiscal health of the state, considering it accounts for about a half of all revenue collections.

Now, that’s not to say all the news was bad. In fact, the numbers clearly show New Jersey’s economy seems to be getting better, albeit slowly. Tax collections were nearly 4 percent higher than the same time last year, and revenue from income taxes rose $39.4 million more that expected.

The problem is the tax cuts. Christie wants them more than an Eagles fan wants Nick Foles to start at quarterback. He needs them to bolster his conservative street cred moving towards his 2016 Presidential run (assuming Romney loses). And Democrats, who have set aside $183 million in the budget for phase one of Christie’s plan, have refused to release that funding until they’re satisfied it won’t bust the budget.

In order for Christie’s budget math to work, collections have to rise 8.2 percent to not only balance the budget, but also make up a shortfall in the year ended June 30. This seems unlikely at best, so long as you’re not living in the conservative bubble that Bill Maher talks about – the one that doesn’t allow facts to enter.

Despite the sagging revenue numbers, despite the lag in sales tax revenue, despite his optimistic predictions, despite having the state’s credit outlook lowered from stable to negative by Standard and Poor’s, Christie is still calling for the legislature to pass his tax cuts for the wealthy. Apparently he still thinks giving an average family $7 a month that the state can’t afford will magically increase consumer spending and fix all of New Jersey’s woes. I guess he’s now officially in the bubble.

“Only you guys follow revenue month to month,” Christie told reporters following an event in Jersey City. He’s moved on for politicians and boardwalk hecklers – now the Governor is telling off math. “Arithmetic, you’re an idiot.” I just hope his staff was able to YouTube it.

“With unemployment close to 10 percent in the Garden State, a mortgage foreclosure crisis, and amidst downgrade warnings from Wall Street, it would behoove this governor to spend more time at home working on problems here in New Jersey,” said Senate Budget Chair Paul Sarlo. I can’t say I disagree. 

I know crunching numbers and governing pragmatically isn’t as sexy as belittling pollsters and campaigning across the country for a “severe conservative,” but unfortunately, that’s what you signed up for. That’s what we pay you for. And that’s what we need you to do.


Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. See more of his work at RobTornoe.com, and follow him on Twitter @RobTornoe.

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