Assemblyman Lou Greenwald (D-Voorhees) is the chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee. Unfortunately for the taxpayers of New Jersey, that means Greenwald is supposed to be an integral part of the budget process, even if he did completely divest himself of his duty in 2010 when the Republican caucus took the lead on nearly every single budget bill that was introduced. This year, noting the political significance than the democrats clear fear of a strong budget that the GOP can actually run on instead of from, it is unlikely that Greenwald and his fellow democrats will take such a back seat role in 2011.
One would think that since Assemblyman Greenwald intends to play this key role and be a gatekeeper of sorts on funding for the new budget that he would at least pay attention during the Governor’s address! He was there, Save Jerseyans, I saw him in his regular seat, but his statements today show that his mind was elsewhere.
Greenwald put out a press release yesterday criticizing the Christie budget for allocating a pension payment of over $500 million dollars a year earlier than he would have been statutorily obligated to do so. Let that sink in for a second. The party who was criticizing Governor Christie for not making a pension payment last year is now criticizing him for making one this year and not putting it off until next year. He claims that there is nothing revolutionary about making an obligated pension payment, even going so far as to get a jab in about the riots in Egypt being more impressive, a comment I am sure he worked really hard on. But in a sense, Greenwald is right. There is nothing crazy about making a payment that needs to be made down the road. However, what is impressive is the ability to find $500 million in an overburdened budget to make a payment ahead of schedule and to still manage to cut state spending by 2.6% in the new fiscal year.
Next, Assemblyman Greenwald attack the Governor with what is apparently the theme that the democrats are going to run with this year in the state legislative races. They are going to claim that every move that the Governor is merely to impress the conservatives nationally to keep his hopes alive for a 2012 Presidential run. Aside from the fact that Christie has made it clear he is not running in 2012, it has also been shown through polling that the people of New Jersey do not think that Christie’s national image has taken away from his ability to lead our state. Look, for the last four years, New Jersey voters have had to be apologists for, and deal with, Jon Corzine, a Governor who any national Democrat worth anything would not touch with a ten foot poll. Not only was he not a compelling figure, but he was politically toxic! Chris Christie is a Governor that the people of New Jersey can actually be proud of. His national popularity is a net positive for New Jersey, and if the Democrats want to run on that line, I would suggest they start packing to move into the minority office sooner than later.
Finally, Greenwald really demonstrates how little heard or understood from the budget address with his closing comments. He claims that had Christie held off on the pension payment until it is actually due next year, that state spending would increase in that year by $234 million. Greenwald must have missed the entire introduction to the budget address when the Governor talked about the “new normal” and that the budget will continue to be built from the ground up every year. Just like with the payment being made now, it is completely paid for contingent upon the passage of health benefit reform and pension reform. Senate President Sweeney set a timeline of mid-March for the reforms to take place, and then the payment will be made.
Under Greenwald’s scenario, it shows that he is working under the assunption that every item in this new budget is going to be funded next year at the same level it is now. This could not be further from the truth. Christie has been touting his approach to the state budget as the “new normal” for funding government. Not going with the assumption that every single program from last year, regardless or effectiveness or level of priority, needs to stay the same or increase in funding. Sometimes a program simply needs to die, and not only because the program is bad, but because something else must take precedent. The blame for program cut in that latter scenario would fall squarely at the feet of Democrats like Assemblyman Greenwald next year. The Governor has made himself clear. That pension payment will be made when it is paid for with reforms to the pension and health benefit system for state workers, a system that is quickly becoming unsustainable. If those reforms do not go through and the Governor needs to push the pension payment into the FY 2013 budget (a scenario I do not anticipate judging by Senator Sweeney’s decision to come on board for some type of reform) I would bet anything that he would not allow spending to increase in order to make the payment. Something would need to be cut, and it would be the politically calculated, short sighted, and stubborn actions of people like Lou Greenwald who would force such cuts.