Bathtub America Sloshes Into New Jersey
To close a deficit that he asserted was approaching a staggering $11 billion, [New Jersey Governor Chris] Christie called for the layoffs of 1,300 state workers, closings of state psychiatric institutions, an $820 million cut in aid to public schools, and nearly half a billion dollars less in aid to towns and cities. He also suspended until May 2011 a popular property-tax rebate program, breaking one of his own campaign promises.
Democrats were quick to characterize Mr. Christie’s proposal as falling disproportionately on the backs of the middle class, poor, elderly, schoolchildren, college students and inner-city residents, while leaving largely unscathed the wealthy and most businesses.
“Today, we are fulfilling the promise of a smaller government that lives within its means,” [Christie] said at a joint legislative session here. “The defenders of the status quo have already begun to yell and scream. They will try to demonize me. They will seek to divide us rather than unite us. But even they know in their hearts, if not yet in their minds — it is time for a change.”
I was going to list all the ways this lean, efficient budget will cut services and increase expenses for the poor and middle class, but I keep coming back to this:
The battle to ensue is likely to shape up around the so-called millionaire’s tax, a one-year income-tax surcharge on people making more than $400,000 that Mr. Christie vowed not to renew. (Democrats allowed it to lapse in December.) If that surcharge were renewed, it would bring in close to $1 billion.
In his speech, Mr. Christie reaffirmed his stance on the issue, saying New Jersey’s tax burden was already the nation’s costliest. “Mark my words today: If a tax increase is sent to my desk, I will veto it,” he said.
That’s the essence of Bathtub America right there: Cutting the education budget so you can eliminate a tax on millionaires. Christie even has the nerve to say that “the watchwords of this budget are shared sacrifice and fairness,” when most of that sacrifice will be borne by ordinary people so that the rich can be spared.
The NYT story points out that this is happening in several states with Republican governors, which makes perfect sense. The “starve-the-beast” strategy isn’t so effective with a federal government that can borrow almost indefinitely, but it works like gangbusters on state governments that have to balance their budgets each year. State-level Republicans simply insist that any tax increases on corporations or wealth would start a job-destroying death spiral, thus making draconian cuts the only option, as deeply regrettable as it might be.
Sure, the government kinda stops working, but everyone knows that the private sector does a much better job anyway. If you can afford it.