As Jay noted below, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is catching a lot of heat for going after the primary source of the state's fiscal woes: bloated public employee salaries and benefits, most of which are protected by public employee unions that wield vast power in the state legislature. George Will gave a shout out to Christie today in the Washington Post.
There are 700,000 more Democrats than Republicans in New Jersey, but in November Christie flattened the Democratic incumbent, Jon Corzine. Christie is built like a burly baseball catcher, and since his inauguration just 13 weeks ago, he has earned the name of the local minor-league team -- the Trenton Thunder.
He inherited a $2.2 billion deficit, and next year's projected deficit of $10.7 billion is, relative to the state's $29.3 billion budget, the nation's worst. Democrats, with the verbal tic -- "Tax the rich!" -- that passes for progressive thinking, demanded that he reinstate the "millionaire's tax," which hit "millionaires" earning $400,000 until it expired Dec. 31. Instead, Christie noted that between 2004 and 2008 there was a net outflow of $70 billion in wealth as "the rich," including small businesses, fled. And he said previous administrations had "raised taxes 115 times in the last eight years alone."
When will liberals learn that wealth (aka "capital") is very portable and that taxing the rich really only accomplishes one result with stunning efficiency: the rich move. It's called tax avoidance, a concept that is totally alien to the public employee union mindset. Will drives home that point with this analysis:
Government employees' health benefits are, he says, "41 percent more expensive" than those of the average Fortune 500 company. Without changes in current law, "spending will have increased 322 percent in 20 years -- over 16 percent a year." There is, he says, a connection between the state's being No. 1 in total tax burden and being No. 1 in the proportion of college students who, after graduating, leave the state.
Partly to pay for teachers' benefits -- most contribute nothing to pay for their health insurance -- property taxes have increased 70 percent in 10 years, to an average annual cost to homeowners of $7,281. Christie proposes a 2.5 percent cap on annual increases.
The Tea Party movement has been all over this issue from its beginning but Governor Christie may be the first big league politician to actually wrestle the problem to the ground. Think about that data for a moment. Government employees in New Jersey enjoy health benefit plans that are 41% more expensive than Fortune 500 private sector plans. Why do public sector employees that create no wealth whatsoever enjoy such riches in excess of a private sector that pays all of the taxes from their own wealth creation? What the Tea Party movement advanced in general last Spring is being brought home by Christie in a manner that makes it personal. And therein is the substance of a winning campaign strategy if only some conservative/libertarian will show the courage to push a policy on a national level that surprisingly is being birthed in New Jersey. Conservatives would be wise to heed Christie's most prescient comment that "subtlety is not going to win this fight,"