This is commentary from political blogger and cartoonist Rob Tornoe.
There was a enlightening moment during New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s budget speech on Tuesday where he complained about how much he hated Obamacare, yet touted the savings New Jersey would receive by expanding Medicaid under Obamacare.
It’s that divide that fascinates me about Christie, and how he has to contort himself to fit within a Republican party controlled more and more by knuckle-dragging ideologues. The challenge for our outspoken governor is always walking that fine political line between supporting conservative causes and not alienating his base, all while supporting popular policy items in a Democratic-leaning state.
It’s telling that by supporting the Medicare expansion, which will give 300,000 people access to health care while netting the state $227 million in new revenue, Christie is risking alienating his most ardent supporters. Isn’t it interesting that when a Republican wants to do something to help the poor, it hurts him in his own party?
It’s not as if Christie has been a moderate on the issue. Back in 2011, Christie said Medicaid is bankrupting every state government and claimed its leading the country on a path to ruin. He also called Obamacare’s initial mandate of Medicaid expansion, which was later struck down by the Supreme Court, “extortion.”
“It essentially said, ‘You expand your program to where we tell you, and if you don’t, we’re taking the rest of your money away.’ Well, that’s extortion,” Christie said last year.
According to the Washington Post, Christie questioned how much more the state’s Medicare program could be expanded, considering New Jersey has the country’s second most expensive program. With $227 million on the table for next year’s budget alone, apparently he’s done questioning it.
Other thoughts on the budget:
Pension fund: Christie deserves high marks for pledging to meet the required pension contribution of $1.675 billion, something a New Jersey governor hasn’t done in a long time. Considering the state was facing a credit rating downgrade if they didn’t comply, Christie didn’t have much choice. And despite the good news, the future still looks bleak. By 2018, the cost to fully fund the pension fund will be about $5.5 billion a year, a little less than half of what the state now spends on education.
School aid: In a budget aimed at aiding his re-election campaign, it’s hardly shocking Christie proposed an increase of school aid. Saying he’s increased state aid to schools to $9 billion sounds impressive, but his proposed $97 million increase amounts to just 1 percent jump. Still, I’m sure school districts hurt by Christie’s $1 billion cut just a few years ago welcome the news.
Christie is also making another run at vouchers, including it in his budget for the fourth time. Unlike performance pay and tenure reform, Christie hasn’t been able to push vouchers through the Democratically-controlled Assembly, and this year’s modest $2 million “Opportunity Scholarship Grant” proposal is already being opposed by the Newark-based Education Law Center. David Sciarra, its executive director, told the Star-Ledger, “This proposal should be dead on arrival.”
Homestead Rebate: It’s still Trenton, and despite his guarantee to “balance the budget without gimmicks,” Christie postponed the scheduled Homestead Rebate for property taxes to August, allowing its cost to be calculated on next year’s budget instead of the current one, where he finds himself in a $350 million hole, through January.
Truth be told, it’s the second time the Homestead Rebate has been delayed – earlier in the year, it was pushed back from March to May, to give the governor some wiggle room. Considering it helps homeowners struggling under oppressively high property taxes, let’s hope it doesn’t get delayed any longer, especially in favor of some nonsensical across-the-board income tax cut that will benefit those that least need tax relief.
Earned Income Tax Credit: There’s less hope on the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), aimed at helping low-income workers before Christie cut it back in 2010. Christie had proposed restoring the full EITC credit during his State of the State speech in January of 2012, but made no mention of it in his budget address on Tuesday. Considering about one in seven New Jerseyans receive the EITC, its absence from Christie’s latest budget is disappointing.
Internet Gambling: Christie is also banking a lot on the new internet gambling legislation to fill the state’s coffers. His budget expects taxes from internet gambling to total $180 million, which would require internet gambling revenues to total $1.2 billion – a tall order according to Sen. Raymond Lesnicak, who sponsored the legislation.
“That’s more than any estimate I’ve seen,” Lesniak told the Press of Atlantic City. “At least, he’s thinking big.”
Environment: Here’s what Christie had to say about his commitment to the environment: ” … “
That’s right, Christie’s budget left out how to fund open space preservations, made no mention of climate change and seemed to relegate Jersey Shore reconstruction to a $40 million pot to help towns alleviate higher property taxes. Even worse, this year’s budget continues to raid the clean energy fun paid for by ratepayers, to the tune of $152 million. Since taking office, Christie has removed $680 million from the state’s clean-energy funds, so this should come as a complete shock.
Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. See more of his work at RobTornoe.com, and follow him on twitter @RobTornoe.