Blogging Jon Corzine

Like the tab says, it’s a blog centered on Japan and New Jersey in the good old U S of A.

Word as I get it here is that Governor Corzine is in a tough spot in the battle to be re-elected Governor of New Jersey. It’s not his fault — the economy sucks. The Great (a/k/a Big Bad) Recession has sucked a lot of money out of the region. Most of this was Bubble Money coming from New York City and the finance industry.

Housing is way, way down compared to top bubble prices. I would say that the typical $500,000 house in Bridgewater Township, New Jersey at the peak is now a $350,000 house. And either headed lower, or not seeing the top again for another 50 years.

Jon Corzine had nothing to do with any of that.

What Corzine inherited, well before the bubble, the pop, the financial crises, and the recession, was a state on a train wreck set up by Christie Whitman.

If you really want to know the story though, you have to go back 40 years.

The pattern in New Jersey for most all of my life is that the Republicans tend to let things get out of control. And the Demcorats are forced to clean up. There is a good reason for this, mostly to do with lower-level Democrats like the petty thieves being rounded up in Hoboken and Monmouth County. But the mess is also the product of wealthy suburbanites and the Teachers’ Union.

Whatever the cause, the mess always lands on the Governor’s desk. No matter who the Governor is.

It’s like an East Coast California, except the New Jersey crowd has been at it for 60 or 70 years. California for 30.

It’s called “Something for Nothing”.

And what a great game, too.

Back in the 1960’s, people’s property taxes were an issue. Especially for old people. If they didn’t have some sizeable pool of savings or a nice pension, AND private heath insurance before Medicare, they were at risk of losing their house. Yes, you know all this talk again from the right-wing nuts about “socialized medicine”, well Medicare — which is socialized medicine — wasn’t always around!

These real estate taxes were a killer. Even if it was $500 a year in the money of those days (Maybe $3500 in today’s money.) A lot of old people had to struggle to pay, and it was an embarrassment to our state.

As the New Jersey suburbs grew, the influx of people wanted new schools. And the teachers wanted good money and a solid pension. So there developed a strong constituency for these things.

Since the property tax was the main source of school funding, it became the spigot that would be turned on wide to fund the many school systems throughout New Jersey.

By about 1969 or 1970, budgets both state and local in New Jersey were getting a little tight. Governor Meyner (1953- 1961) was a candidate again in the 1969 election. He ran against Congressman Bill Cahill out of Trenton. Governor Meyner said that he saw the need for state income tax. (New Jersey did not have one! Can you believe it New Jersey readers? There actually was no income tax!)

Congressman Cahill, who wanted to win, lambasted that notion. He said New Jersey could manage all the increased costs of the burgeoning school system without an income tax!

Bill Cahill obviously won.

And what did he do? Well, one of the first things was he raised the state sales tax from 3% to 5%. The 3% sales tax rate had been recommended by Governor Hughes (1961-1969) when the problems about school funding first became apparent.

So in ’70, Republican Governor Cahill figured that sauce for the goose was good enough, and hiked it to 5%. Additionally, he advocated for the New Jersey Lottery. This was to be a state-run lottery where the proceeds that weren’t paid out to winners would go to benefit senior citizens.

It was a voluntary tax in a way. And it was also meant to grab at the lucrative “numbers racket” run by the New York mob and its Jersey affiliates. Something for nothing!

Cahill and the 1973 recession

By 1973, it was clear that piecemeal measures were not sufficient to solve the property tax crisis and close yawning budget gaps. So by then Governor Cahill — a Republican, remember — also began to advocate the Income Tax for New Jersey. The very thing his opponent Meyner lost on.

As a result, Governor Cahill faced a primary challenge from Congressman Charles Sandman of South Jersey. One of the first of the modern “right wingers”. Sandman was a die-hard supporter of none other than Richard M. Nixon. The Nixon, who, at the time, as just beginning his downfall in the Watergate scandal.

I guess Sandman was the Lonegan of his days. Except Sandman won the primary. He faced Brendan Byrne, “the Essex County prosecutor who fought the mob”. This was ’73.

Sandman ran on the right-wingers platform that, I think, has 100% doomed a New Jersey statewide candidate to defeat. Byrne was more sophisticated than Democratic candidate Meyner had been. Byrne did not advocate the income tax, but he didn’t exactly rule it out either.

By then, the New Jersey Supreme Court was getting involved in school funding. There were a number of cases bubbling up from the lower courts that were saying that New Jersey’s way of funding schools was unfair.

There was one really excellent case that the Star-Ledger’s Paul Mulshine wrote about within the last 10 years. I forget the name.

Governor Byrne wins
.

Well, after the inevitably Byrne Landslide of 1973, the N.J. Supreme Court became even more involved in the issue. By 1976, they had ruled on Abbot v. Burke. A case that basically said New Jersey could not fund its schools until the Legislature came up with a way to fund all the schools–including the dilapidated ones in the “white flight” small cities like Newark and Camden.

(The Supreme Court Chief Justice at the time, by the way, was former Governor Hughes.)

And so Governor Byrne told the Legislature there was no choice but to have an income tax. And the Legislature agreed. This was 1976.

The tax was 2% on small money (maybe up to $20,000, which was $60,000 today, and 2.5% above that).

Byrne looks like a loser in 1977. But wins.

The recession and bad economy of 1970’s New Jersey could well hold a candle to today. At the time, New Jersey was “deindustrializing” (losing its manufacturing base and jobs). Additionally, New York City was in the pits. It, itself, almost went bankrupt around 1975-76, and had to be bailed out by New York State.

Governor Byrne faced one fiscal crisis after the next. And then in 1976, had the Legislature impose an income tax. So he became known as “One Term Byrne” (OTB—the same acronym as “off track betting, which was popular at the time in the horse race community.)

The Governor faced a primary challenge in ’77 against something like ten other contenders, and won with just 32% of the vote.

The Republicans selected state senator Raymond Bateman of Somerset County.

Bateman was not a right-winger. But he was another of these “false promisers” who the Republicans in New Jersey routinely put up. Bateman went around the state telling voters how he would get the new income tax “repealed” as governor.

He wanted to ride into the governorship on hostility towards the incumbent. He wasn’t offering anything other than he wasn’t the guy who was in there.

But the job of New Jersey governor requires work. And Byrne pressed Bateman about how he would fund the state. The killer was that Bryne went back to Bateman’s legislative record of the 1960’s, and showed how many times Bateman supported taxes. Including, as I remember, being behind the 1966 sales tax of 3%.

Bateman was a phony. Not someone who had a career of drawing the line against taxes. A false promiser.

Bateman went down in a landslide defeat. He allegedly suffered a depression after that, but it could just be local yore.

Republican finally wins, by 100 or 200 votes. Increases taxes the next year.

The 1981 governor election pitted Tom Kean, Senior against Congressman Jim Florio. And in this one, Florio almost won!

The main issues slip my mind, except to point out that Governor Kean (the Republican) subsequently hiked the sales tax to 6%. And the top rate of the income tax to 4.5%. I think this was due to the 1982 recession, which also hit New Jersey hard.

Although Governor Kean was in there for eight years, I think this was because the Democrats ran a 32-year-old (Peter Shapiro?) who nobody knew statewide against him in 1985. So of course he won again.

Florio finally wins.

In 1989, Congressman Florio was back. This time against a fairly right-winger Congressman from the northwest corner of the state named Jim Courter. Whatever the issues were, Florio won big.

He came to office about the time of the 1990 recession. And fatefully he raised taxes to solve a school funding problem (sales tax to 7%; income taxes in general up 2% or so). The New Jersey Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Wilentz, still working the Abbot v. Burke case, were going to require the state to pony up more money.

Instead of waiting for the result, Florio put the legislation in motion to cover whatever the Court would have ordered. It was his fatal mistake. Because a new talk radio station, New Jersey 101.5 had just come on the air in the spot of the old KICKS 101.5 rock station.

The new radio station, a front for corporate media, began to slam Governor Florio, everyday for about the next four years. Basically they demonized the man for just doing what his last four predecessors had done to keep the state’s fiscal house in order.

False Promiser Christie Whitman gets elected.

By 1993, the general public in New Jersey had had enough of the demonized Jim Florio, and narrowly went with Somerset County Republican Chistie Whitman, a distant relative of Bateman.

In order to win, Christie Whitman promised a 30% roll back of the state income tax. Once she won, she had the Legislature pass that. Except it created a giant hole in the New Jersey budget. Whitman could not close the gap except through heavy borrowing.

Worse, she instructed state officials to make every excuse why this heavy debt should not be ratified by the voters—which is in fact our state constitutional rule.

It was at this point that New Jersey became a heavily indebted state. So that Whitman could give a big tax cut to her wealthy friends in Somerset County fox country and not look like as big a false promiser has her predecessor Republicans the loser Bateman and Cahill.

The 2000’s.

By 2000, Governor Whitman had grown a little bored at the work in Trenton. So when she had a chance to quit early and join President George W. Bush’s cabinet at the start of 2001, she grabbed it.

Today, no one looks back on the Whitman Administration as any sort of Golden Era of New Jersey politics. In fact, anyone who has followed New Jersey politics realizes that this is when the thing finally went out of whack!

When the Republican false promisers finally set out to “do their thing”, they send the state toward bankruptcy!

Republican New Jersey governor candidates make false promises that they can’t deliver on.

The modern era.

So since the original “Christie”, we had this guy Donny DiFrancesco in, who was brought down during primary season when his handpicked state treasurer, Isabel Miranda, had to resign after five days because of scandal that hit the New York Times front page. I think she had padded her Citibank expense account to see her boyfriend-lover on the West Coast. A closet right-winger named Brett Schundler got the nod and lost to Jim McGreevey.

Governor McGreevey himself got taken out for being gay after pretending to be straight. And putting his lover on the state payroll in a sinecure. The Senate President, Richard Codey, filled in as Acting Governor both before and after McGreevey.

Then finally Jon Corzine came in.

Governor Corzine’s gargantuan task has been to try and take all the mess of the last 40 years, and make as much progress as anyone could to fix things in four years.

Because if they aren’t fixed in four years, another Republican False Promiser comes along and says, “if you only follow me, I will solve all of this state’s sorry problems—unlike the incumbent!”

Cahill, Sandman, Bateman, Shundler, etc. They’ve all done it. Chris Christie is not writing the playbook, just turning the pages.

The state has had problems that were punted downfield for 40 years and more! Through maybe seven or eight governorships. And I’m not sure that’s counting those various acting governors in the early 2000’s.

Most of the state’s money goes to schools. There is a big constituency in favor of that school spending. They are a tough crowd. That is to say, they will fight tooth and nail about money. And there are more of them than there is a governor.

And there are the 566 different municipalities, each of which wants to be an independent feifdom. But still get money from Trenton, with no strings attached. Every time a state official proposes consolidation of municipalities, the people scream. How is a governor supposed to fix that?

We have these low-level state officials, being bribed with $96,000 cash stuffed in an empty cereal box. Out in places like Republican Somerset County, the bribery is more subtle. The bribers have a lot more gifts at their disposal—a lot more money around—and so to get something from government, it isn’t so clear to the public or the investigators what the quid pro quo is.
But trust me it’s there too. If at minimum Nick Bissell’s antics while Somerset County prosecutor in the 1990’s.

It’s not surprising if you feel that Governor Corzine didn’t solve all of New Jersey’s problems in the last 4 years. It is surprising if anyone DOES think that a governor could solve them in just four years.

The shameful thing is that a man like Christopher Christie, who was supposed to be an independent-minded prosecutor but turned into a shill for the Bush Administration, has the nerve to go around the state as a “reformer”.

What has he reformed?

What can he really deliver?

Isn’t he just in the pocket of Somerset County Republican Party boss and ultra-lobbyist Dale Florio? (No relation to Jim Florio.) Isn’t voting Christie in just handing the state back to Dale Florio and his lobbyist buddies—just like when Whitman lady was there?

Give false promises, then raid the New Jersey treasury.

I still would rather have a guy like Governor Corzine—who clearly is not beholden to any lobbyist— as the chief administrator of the state than a guy who is going to take marching orders from Republican Party boss Dale Florio. And Dale’s clients, who usually are out-of-state mega businesses that don’t have New Jersey’s interests at heart.

Wouldn’t you rather have someone who isn’t bought off? Even if he can’t solve 40 years of problems in 4 years?

That’s Jon Corzine.

Chris Christie is taking his place in the line of Republican false promisers and promising Something for Nothing. Christie says he can take care of everything that ails the state and do it all without causing anyone any pain.

Oh really? If you have been around the last the last 40 years, you’ve heard that one before.

The guy who has actually taken on the special interests in New Jersey is Jon Corzine. Jon Corzine actually stopped the train wreck in its tracks. It’s just that a recession covers up the progress.

If Chris Christie gets in, nothing is solved except the Republican insiders who travel with Christie and basically “made” him are going to want to collect on their investment.

Same fear with Jon Corzine? No. Right?