In an interview at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation Fiscal Summit on Wednesday afternoon, Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) answered for the significant budget problems in New Jersey that continue to worsen on his watch.
Moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS News wasted no time questioning Christie’s strategy to combat the dismal economic reports coming out of the Garden State in recent weeks. “The news is not so good about New Jersey,” Schieffer said. “You’re facing a shortfall in your budget of $807 million, credit rating was recently downgraded again, there’s concern the state will be unable to make its pension payments, you’ve got low job growth when compared to some other states—so I guess I’ll just begin with a general question, where do you start? Can you fix this and can you do all of it at once?”
Recall that in 2012, Governor Christie told voters that he would change New Jersey’s economy and return it to a path of prosperity, but the facts point to more stagnation than progress. From March 2013 to March 2014, New Jersey ranked last in national job growth; it is currently the country’s fifth worst state economy; and for the sixth time during Christie’s tenure in office, Moody’s Investor Service has downgraded the state’s credit rating.
Christie defended the actions his administration has taken thus far, remarking that “the comeback we’ve made has been exceptional but not complete.”
The governor went on to blame—well, anyone but himself. “I’m trying in the last five years to fix problems that we’ve accumulated over the last 20,” Christie said.
DNC National Press Secretary Michael Czin, a persistent Christie critic, issued the following response on Wednesday afternoon: “For all his bluster and claims of straight talk, the bottom line is that Chris Christie will deflect, blame and attack others on nearly every issue—from Bridgegate to his budget crisis—while failing to take responsibility for his miserable record.”
Christie began by blaming the state’s economists, whom he says he pressed on how they were so wrong on their predictions. “They said, ‘we just missed it.’ And the great thing about an economist is that’s all they have to say.” But, he continued, “I’m the one that has to fix your mess.”
His predecessors were next on the governor’s list of reasons the New Jersey economy has faltered. When asked about the state’s failure to make pension payments, Christie responded, “Of that [owed] $1.6 billion, only $650 million is for the current pension bill for this year. $1 billion is for unaccrued liability that my predecessors didn’t pay. For a decade New Jersey governors made no pension payments.” After naming the former governors he views as the true culprits, Christie reasoned that “my job is not only to pay for what I’m accumulating now, but also to pay back what they never paid.”
The Obama administration didn’t escape unscathed, either. Christie blustered that the only way to avoid future economic trouble is to “stop the insanity” of entitlement spending and health benefits. He blamed the Affordable Care Act for harming the state’s economy.
One thing Christie will not do to balance the budget? Raise taxes. “The top 10 income tax payers in New Jersey pay more than the bottom two million filers,” he explained. “If they get up and decide to hang out with [Republican governor] Rick Scott in Florida, I’m losing the equivalent in revenue what the bottom 2 million pay, that’s why I’m not raising taxes.”
Meanwhile, Jersey residents will have to stay tuned for Christie’s concrete plan to fix the state’s budget and economy. He announced that his administration will be releasing a new strategy next week.
In a separate question, Schieffer asked the GOP favorite if he is considering a run in 2016 and when he’ll be deciding. “Yes and later” was his response.
Governor Christie’s road to the White House is increasingly fraught with self-inflicted obstacles. If “Bridgegate” damaged his prospects of becoming a 2016 contender, it will be interesting to see how the stain of an abysmal state economy will affect his chances.
Watch the full interview here:
Photo: Fiscal Summit via Twitter