And you probably thought that Chris Christie had appointed himself governor-for-life. Of course, I wouldn’t put it past him, but his approval ratings are even lower than Trump’s, so he’ll need to leave next January. And with all the fun and excitement going on in DC these days, I can’t really blame you if you haven’t been paying attention to the upcoming election here in the Garden State. The primary is on June 6, though, so it’s time to wake up.
Remember that just last year at this time we were considering the idea that Governor Christie might be the Republican vice-presidential nominee or some other important appointment in case (never happen) Donald Trump got elected president (shudder). Now the governor is scuffling toward the exit with little more than a final-year push to address opioid addiction. You know, the kind of help that people desperately need but that won’t necessarily be covered in a Trumpcare health plan. It’s a remarkable fall for such a large personality and for someone who craves the attention, affirmation and fealty from those around him.
As usual, though, there is no shortage of contenders, And the Republicans and Democrats do differ sharply on the issues. Christie’s Lieutenant Governor, Kim Guagdano, has the unenviable task of hoisting the successor’s flag, all the while running away from Christie and towards Trump. Sort of. Guadagno can’t run as an outsider because she’s been an insider for 8 years, and over that time she really hasn’t made much of a public impact. On the Democratic side, the race will likely come down to one between Phil Murphy and John Wisniewski, although Jim Johnson was impressive in the debate earlier this month.
The big issues are property taxes, which continue to increase despite Christie’s cap on municipal spending, and the increasing difficulty of getting from one place to another in the state dues to a crisis in infrastructure. All of the candidates are suggesting that the school aid formula needs to be addressed, with the Republicans saying that public workers need to pay more for their health insurance benefits and that schools in the suburbs should get more state aid at the expense of urban districts. The Democrats, especially Murphy, are trying to protect benefits, and all of them support cleaner energy and higher taxes on high earners. The Democrats also favor legalizing marijuana and taxing it to get more money for the state.
The most immediate need, though is money to improve the state’s roads and rails because both systems are at their breaking points. Traffic in the Garden State has always been terrible, but road repairs are needed to keep what’s moving moving. The trains are going to be a nightmare this summer as Amtrak shuts down tracks in New York’s Penn Station after the derailments of the last few months. This will cost billions and will remind people that Christie vetoed the plan for a new tunnel to Manhattan early in his term because, as a potential national Republican candidate, he couldn’t be seen as raising taxes or spending on anything that’s necessary.
The train problem is also likely to make the car problem worse because people still need to get to work, so they’ll get into their cars if mass transit is spotty. And it will be. The other answer is to take the bus, but that would mean more buses, more gridlock and more traffic. It doesn’t look as though federal help will be arriving anytime soon as health care, taxes and defending oneself against legal attacks will be keeping Washington busy until at least the beginning of next year.
As for the schools and property taxes, the divide in New Jersey pretty much mirrors the divide in Washington. The Republicans want more money for school choice programs and Charter Schools, and they want public workers to pay more for their pensions and benefits because, well, they have better benefits than everyone else. Of course, the real benefit would be to get every worker the type of benefits that public workers have, rather than taking a livable retirement away from them. But you know Republicans; they think that unions are destructive and that management knows best.
Of course, Democrats were not much better, especially those who sided with Christie in the benefits reform bill of 2011 which resulted in a massive reduction in take-home pay for public workers who were already employed when the bill was passed. This is a main reason why middle class recovery has been slower in New Jersey than in other states. The Democratic candidates running now say they will protect worker’s benefits and improve the pension system, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
New Jersey should be a Democratic pickup come the fall, but I’ll also hedge that bet a little until I see who wins the primaries.
Get out and vote on June 6.