New Jersey gubernatorial hopeful Chris Christie has promised the following if elected: property tax cuts, across-the-board income tax cuts, corporate tax cuts, and tax cuts for small businesses. Like a true politician, Christie has chosen to avoid upsetting any specific voters by refusing to outline the unavoidably severe cuts in state services that would be required to finance his tax-cutting spree. Instead, he has simply stated that everything, aside from police funding, should be on the table. Like most states, New Jersey will be staring down a large budget gap for the foreseeable future (projected at about $6 billion or more for FY11). Closing this gap alone (without raising taxes) would require a 20% cut in the state budget. Piling Christie’s tax cuts on top of that gap would raise that percentage significantly.
Somewhat encouragingly, voters are beginning to question Christie’s ability to deliver tax cuts during these dire budgetary times. In an attempt to side-step these growing questions at a recent gubernatorial debate, Christie compared his current situation to the one he faced as a U.S. attorney: “When I said I was going to combat public corruption, no one asked me exactly how [I was] going to do it … They said, ‘Do it. Let’s see if you can.’” But you can’t blame the voters for being just a bit skeptical. The fact is, if Christie explained “how” he was going to do it, he’d probably lose more than a few votes.
In addition to the general fund fantasies Christie seems to be concocting, he also has some interesting ideas regarding transportation funding. In discussing the state’s deteriorating transportation infrastructure, Independent candidate Christopher Daggett admitted that gas tax increases or toll increases will be needed. When Christie attempted to bash this idea, Daggett fired back, “It’s easy to criticize when you have no plan of your own. The tooth fairy’s not going to solve this problem.”
In addition to taking a realistic position on transportation, Daggett should also be commended for his willingness to offer specifics regarding his property tax plan. In order to pay for a 25% cut in property taxes, Daggett has proposed expanding the state’s sales tax to include services. Such a move would modernize an outdated tax, and would ensure the sales tax’s long-run sustainability.
Finally, while incumbent Jon Corzine has been relatively tight-lipped regarding his future plans for the state’s tax system, he has shown some real leadership by refusing to take the childish no-tax pledge that many observers have been attempting to force onto him. Moreover, it’s important not to forget that Corzine has already shown an ability to make the tough choices in his decision to take a balanced approach (both raising taxes and cutting spending) during the most recent round of budget negotiations.