Column: Be skeptical of Christie touting his accomplishments
(The views expressed are the author's own and not those of Reuters.)
Bloomberg View's Josh Barro is lauding New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in advance of his keynote address at the Republican National Convention:
"Christie's record in New Jersey is too substantively centrist to run as the darling of the party's right. Instead, if he runs in four years, he'll have to make the case for a more compromising and consultative politics that tries to occupy the center, modeled on his successes in New Jersey."
Unfortunately, Barro never details any successes of Christie during his time as governor. In fact, Christie's record is particularly thin, and New Jersey remains in dire fiscal shape. In contrast to Barro's piece, the reporters in the Bloomberg newsroom have detailed how bond markets are actually charging New Jersey and its municipalities more to borrow since Christie took office:
"New Jersey and its localities are paying an average yield penalty of 0.57 percentage point over AAA securities to borrow for 10 years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The gap is more than double the five-year average. It was 0.35 percentage points the day Christie took office."
Translation: Municipal bond markets are charging New Jersey and its towns nearly twice as much to borrow than they did before Christie took office.
Let's take a look at Christie's thin record of accomplishment. Christie recently worked with the legislature to pass a very weak teacher tenure reform bill. Although Christie lauds it as the most significant change in a hundred years, school administrators are not overwhelmed. The Passaic Valley Today newspaper in New Jersey quoted two school superintendents on the actual substance of the Christie reform:
"‘I think it's too early in the process to determine how effective or what implication the new law will have,' said Dr. Viktor Joganow, PVHS superintendent. ‘I don't think adding an extra year will make a difference when it comes to a district awarding a teacher tenure. Clearly, the most important piece of the legislation is the ability to prevent tenure without a district having to go through a lengthy and costly process. The law makes that part of it more fiscally viable.'"
"William Petrick, superintendent for the Little Falls School District and principal for School No. 3, said the bill promises no real change."
During his speech Christie is also likely to go on at length about his reform of the New Jersey pension system. But even here, the changes are not very different from what was accomplished in 41 other states in the same year. Christie had the state make a tiny contribution to the pension system in 2011, which is underfunded by approximately $43 billion that year, and a slightly larger payment in 2012. New Jersey's system remains the second-most underfunded system in the country, behind Illinois, the same rank it occupied when Christie took office.
On the most important issue to the residents of New Jersey, the unemployment rate, the numbers are dismal:
"New Jersey lost 12,000 jobs in July and the state's unemployment rate reached its highest point since the spring of 1977, according to preliminary data released Thursday by the state Department of Labor."
Barro wrote extensively about Christie's speech at the Reagan Library, which was full of rhetoric about compromise and working together. But fuzzy speeches do little to address substantial economic and fiscal problems. New Jersey has plenty of these, and Christie has done little to alleviate them.
(Cate Long is the Muniland blogger at Reuters. Follow her on Twitter at @cate_long.)
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