An early joke about New Jersey is attributed to Ben Franklin: "New Jersey is like a beer barrel, tapped at both ends, with all the live beer running into Philadelphia and New York." Maybe you had to be there.
A contemporary joke is on display in Trenton where the majority Democratic legislature and Governor John "I promise not to raise your taxes" Corzine are in a fierce battle over the state budget, which last weekend led to a government shutdown reminiscent of the 1995-96 closings of the Federal government. A decade ago, it was a battle between a Republican Congress and a Democratic president. Now, in New Jersey, it's a fight among Democrats over how much taxes should be raised (and which ones) and how much the legislature and governor will increase spending.
A recent Wall Street Journal editorial summed up New Jersey's fiscal problems: "The Garden State has raised taxes nearly every year since 2000 and nearly twice as much per resident as the next highest tax state. Yet, no surprise, Trenton still has the biggest budget crisis outside of the states ruined by Hurricane Katrina. This taxing binge hasn't balanced the budget because state expenditures have ballooned by $8 billion, or about 45 percent, in six years."
Corzine claims new spending is necessary because state schools and services are under-funded and that's why he "needs" to raise taxes again, this time by a proposed $1.5 billion. Schools and services are anything but under-funded, but Corzine carries the Democrat's tax-and-spend gene and he is not about to cut taxes or reduce spending in the face of facts.
Republicans see a grand political opportunity in New Jersey. A new Quinnipiac poll has found 46 percent of voters regard taxes as the largest problem faced by the state. As the Journal notes, that's "the highest number for any issue the polling firm ever found in New Jersey."
Republicans have presented the governor with a detailed list of spending cuts, totaling $2.2 billion. They include adjustments to salaries and benefits for government employees, suspension of nonessential programs, elimination of low-priority programs and politicized spending, consolidation of departments and deferral of some new spending. Corzine wants to increase state spending by a whopping $2.8 billion and leave the present bureaucratic government structure largely untouched.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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