Gov. Christie Belatedly Accepts Reality on Same-Sex Marriage

After 37 years as a committed couple, Ulysses Dietz and Gary Berger were married this afternoon by Mayor Victor De Luca at Maplewood Town Hall, as New Jersey becomes the 14th state to permit gay people to marry. The Web Goddess and I were thrilled to be in attendance, along with other friends of the happy couple who were able to get time away from work on short notice.

Also today, Gov. Chris Christie conceded defeat in his opposition to marriage equality, after a unanimous state Supreme Court decision lifting a lower-court stay, which touched off wedding bells around the state.

One of the cool things about blogging is the occasional opportunity to say “I told you so,” and back it up with a link. In a February 2012 post headlined “The Sooner Christie Loses on Same-Sex Marriage, the Better Off He’ll Be,” I wrote:

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.  As of this week seven states permit same-sex marriage.  New Jersey will not become the eighth, but I fully expect it to be in the front half of the parade, despite Christie’s efforts.

When I predicted Christie would be better off by losing, I was looking ahead 18 months to when he would stand for re-election.  Election Day now is little more than two weeks away, and his re-election is not in doubt.  A liberal friend predicted before the wedding this afternoon that if Christie runs for president in 2016, the Right will savage him for dropping his appeal before the court could eventually rule on the appeal itself.

I don’t see it that way — the Right has bigger quarrels with Christie than marriage equality.  By dropping a clearly hopeless cause, Christie demonstrates he is more pragmatic than Ted Cruz.  That’s admittedly a low hurdle, but it does represent an “evolution” in Christie’s approach to the issue.  Four years ago I voted for Jon Corzine, the badly-tarnished Democratic incumbent, solely on the basis of Christie’s announced support for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Thirty-six states to go.  They’ll go one by one for a while, but eventually I expect the U.S. Supreme Court to be asked to rule on some state’s refusal to honor a same-sex marriage performed in another state — by which time the lack of damage to the institution of marriage will be well established.

If it happens that way, I’ll have another I-told-you-so post to write.  In the meantime, congratulations to Gary and Ulysses, and to all our other friends who are marrying or planning weddings on this happy day.

(Photo by the Web Goddess, of course)

“Governor Awesome” Is Unsuitable for Higher Office

With the important exception of same-sex marriage, I’ve been a big fan of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.  Here’s me about a year and a half ago:

I love watching clips of Christie speaking to voters like adults.  Whether he’s describing his own state as a “failed experiment” or jousting with his favorite piñata, the teacher’s union, it’s refreshing to watch him.

Since then I’ve shrugged off a few times when I’ve thought his candor has lapsed into bullying.  But the ugly confrontation on Saturday is simply appalling.

At an impromptu news conference about a major water-treatment emergency in Monmouth County, Christie had specified that he would take questions only about the current topic.  When a reporter dared to ask an innocuous question on a different subject, Christie snarled, “”Did I say on topic?! Are you stupid?! On topic! On topic. Next question.” He doubled-down seconds later, ending the session with “Thank you all very much — and I’m sorry for that idiot over there.”

“Governor Awesome” (an unregistered trademark of Tigerhawk) has been talked about as a potential running mate for Mitt Romney.  I’ve been hoping Romney will look elsewhere so that Christie can continue his efforts to put the state on a more solid financial footing.  But now I’m also very leery of putting a man with appalling judgment and serious anger-management issues a heartbeat away from the nuclear codes.

The Sooner Christie Loses on Same-Sex Marriage, the Better Off He’ll Be

(Welcome, TigerHawk and Patch readers!  You can find more New Jersey posts here, more marriage equality posts here.)
The Web Goddess, who reads the left-leaning Salon so that I don’t have to, today flagged a very astute and even-handed article on the political dilemma that same-sex marriage poses for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

I argued earlier this week that although Christie will veto the marriage equality bill if it reaches his desk, the governor is fighting a losing battle.  The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.  As of this week seven states permit same-sex marriage.  New Jersey will not become the eighth, but I fully expect it to be in the front half of the parade, despite Christie’s efforts.

In Salon, author Steven Kornacki captures the dilemma well:

There are two elections on the horizon that Chris Christie has a particular interest in. The first is in New Jersey next year, when he’ll seek a second term as governor. The second is in 2016, when he’ll make a logical presidential candidate — if he wins reelection in ’13 and if the Republican nomination is open. (For now, at least, let’s leave aside the idea that Christie might serve as his party’s vice presidential candidate this year.)

This makes the debate over gay marriage in the Garden State, where the Democratic-controlled Senate approved marriage equality legislation yesterday, a problem for him.

On the one hand, support for gay marriage among New Jersey voters is solid…  Christie has to be very careful as he approaches his reelection race. He doesn’t have much margin for error when it comes to alienating swing voters — one of the reasons he was so colorful and adamant in denying interest in the presidential race last year — and swing voters in New Jersey are generally fine with gay marriage.

But Republican voters nationally are not, and it will be a long time before they are (if they ever are). So if he wants to preserve his viability for ’16, Christie cannot be known as the New Jersey governor who enacted same-sex marriage. But he also can’t position himself as a hard-line, stop-at-nothing-to-derail-it opponent of it; to do so would reek of the cultural conservatism that has made most national Republicans unmarketable in New Jersey and endanger Christie’s reelection prospects. And if he gets the boot in ’13, it could sink whatever ’16 ambitions he has.

In the 2009 gubernatorial election, Christie did campaign “as a hard-line, stop-at-nothing-to-derail-it opponent” of marriage equality.  He went beyond merely promising to veto it — he promised to support a state constitutional amendment banning it.  You won’t hear The Great Man repeating that promise.  The legislature may or may not be able to overcome a veto in the current session (which lasts until January 2014), but there is zero chance that a constitutional amendment would pass in New Jersey.

I want to be careful here — I am not criticizing Christie for having moderated his stance on same-sex marriage.  I think it’s a move in the right direction.  I have no doubt that Christie honestly believes that marriage should be reserved for the union of one man and one woman. I disagree with his position, but holding that position does not make him evil.  Don’t forget, that’s precisely the position Barack Obama articulated just days before the 2008 election.  The most important difference between Obama’s pre-election stance and Christie’s is that Obama opposed tinkering with state constitutions.

Christie has every right to modulate his level of aggressiveness in supporting one-man-one-woman.  He’s promised to veto the current bill, and he has to go through with that.  But as Kornacki writes, the best thing that could happen to Christie in terms of his future political ambitions would be for marriage equality to become the law of the land in New Jersey without his fingerprints on it.  If it begins to look possible that the legislature could override a veto, look for only token arm-twisting by Christie.

Gov. Christie Will Block Same-Sex Marriage for Now — But Not for Long

Senate President Sweeney

(Welcome, readers! You can find more posts on gay issues here, and more on New Jersey here.)

Timing is everything in politics.  In a race against the clock two years ago, with a lame-duck governor who happily would have signed the bill, the New Jersey Senate fell well short of approving same-sex marriage.  Today, with a governor who will veto the bill, a similar bill passed the Senate easily, and approval also is expected in the Assembly.

Chris Christie, who in most ways I consider an outstanding governor, lost my vote in the 2009 election solely on the basis of his promise to support a constitutional amendment to prohibit marriage equality.  Neither house of the state legislator has the votes now to override the expected veto — but that could change, and the legislature has nearly two years to override.  In the two years between Senate votes, the tally shifted from 20-14 against to 24-16 in favor.

Votes are going to shift only in one direction.  Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, abstained in the vote two years ago — effectively voting no, as any bill needs an absolute majority of 21 to pass.  This time he led the fight for the bill.  Whenever a politician changes sides on an issue, he or she has to be prepared to explain the “flip-flop.”  Here’s Sweeney’s explanation, from before today’s vote:

It was a political calculation [the first time] … you know, I didn’t want to be part of a bill that was gonna fail. And it was the wrong position to take. Because this is about civil rights, and you can’t take a pass on civil rights.

… There’s a whole lot that’s taken place since [the last vote]. Which is people like myself recognizing that this isn’t a political issue, it’s a civil rights issue, and when you talk about, well, put it on the ballot — you know, the majority will always deny the minority, in almost every example, of giving what they already have. So no, we’re not doing that. As a legislative body it’s our responsibility to do the right thing.

Here’s a thought experiment: Try to imagine a politician explaining a vote change in the opposite direction. Ain’t gonna happen.

Also today, the governor of Washington signed a bill making that state the seventh to allow same-sex couples to wed.  The Census Bureau says that in 2010 there were more than 130,000 legally married same-sex couples in the U.S., and despite the fantasies of opponents, no legislature is ever going to issue wholesale annulments.  As the number inexorably rises, same-sex marriage will follow the same arc as interracial marriage, moving from scandalous to novel to unremarkable.  There’s no going back.


Surprise! New Jersey Has the Highest Tax Burden

Out of 50 states, it turns out 49 of them have lower taxes than New Jersey:

As a percent of their income, taxes in the Garden State were 12.2% in 2009, nearly double that of Alaska. Like Connecticut, much of this tax burden comes from state residents who commute to New York City and pay taxes there as well. This illustrates how a state resident contributes to the tax base of multiple states. Although not reflected in the percent of income residents pay in state and local taxes, it is nonetheless an additional burden commuters have to bear. According to Tax Foundation, the state has the third-worst environment for business in the country, with a corporate tax rate of 9%. It also has an above-average sales tax, as well as one of the highest rates in the country for cigarettes and liquor.

Kudos to Governor Christie for resisting class-warfare rhetoric and vetoing the so-called “millionaire’s tax.” My one-time boss, former Home News City Editor Tom Hester Sr., has the scoop on what can happen if you raise taxes on “the rich”:  They take their money elsewhere.

Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the so-called “millionaires’ tax”—a state income tax hike on residents who earn over $1 million annually—sent to him last week by the Democratic-controlled Legislature for fear the 16,000 wage earners it would affect would bailout of the state and hurt the economy.

It turns out that 6-in-10 New Jerseyans who earn more than $75,000 annually say they would like to leave the state, compared to nearly half of those who earn less.

Econ 101: Investment supports job formation.  Raising taxes on anyone deters job formation.  In particular, tax increases on “the rich” should be thought of as coming dollar for dollar out of a pool of money that otherwise would be invested.

If you envy the wealth of others, work toward building your own wealth.  In the meantime, recognize that people with more money have more options than you do.  And get over it.

(Anybody who thinks these are the words of a plutocrat is invited to read my riches-to-rags story…)

Update: Tigerhawk has his own take on NJ taxes.  I point this out primarily as an excuse to boast that I posted 32 minutes before he did.

The Softer Side of Governor Awesome

TigerHawk is my go-to blog for coverage of New Jersey’s Governor Awesome, and I love watching clips of Christie speaking to voters like adults.  Whether he’s describing his own state as a “failed experiment” or jousting with his favorite piñata, the teacher’s union, it’s refreshing to watch him.

The alternate narrative, since there always has to be one, is that Christie is a bully. Here’s the Star-Ledger, in an editorial entitled “Christie’s Bully Act Getting Old“:

Some find Christie entertaining, but his combativeness is counterproductive and breeds the kind of hate speech that plaques [sic] the nation.

To be fair, the editorial was a month before the Arizona shooting turned “hate speech” into the overused meme of the year.  The perception of bullying is something Christie will have to keep in mind.

Anyway I clicked the button on TigerHawk’s latest discovery and settled back to see if Christie was going to “plaque” the nation.  I got a little wary when a Newark mother started talking about her struggles to get educational help for her dyslexic son Isaac — I hoped Christie wasn’t going to go on the attack.

Well, he did, but not against the mother.  He gave her more than two minutes to tell her story, including the tidbit that the state and federal governments together are providing $85 million to Newark alone for students with learning disabilities, yet the public schools told her there was nothing they could do for her son.

Christie weighs in at about 2:20 in the video, asking the woman to give her contact information to his staff.  Then he says, “But with all due respect to you and Isaac”…


“… this is the problem I’m trying to fix… The state sends in excess of 800 million of income tax  money every year to the Newark school system.  In excess of 800 million dollars.  It is outrageous to me, it makes my blood boil, that someone from the Newark school system would tell a mother, who is spending three or four hours a night trying to work her son into success, that we can’t do anything for them.  It’s outrageous…. Newark has twice the amount of administration of the average school district in New Jersey.”

Boom! Governor Awesome.


Did Governor Awesome Get Cold Feet?

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced yesterday that he was halting work on an $8.7 billion rail tunnel under the Hudson.  Here’s why:

The federal government and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey ultimately each pledged $3 billion. But New Jersey, which had committed $2.7 billion to the tunnel, was responsible for anything over that.

And “anything over that” was ballooning before the digging even began.  Christie was faced with estimates of final costs ranging from $11 billion to $14 billion, implying the state’s $2.7 billion share could double or triple, and Governor Awesome made an adult decision.

Yes, it would be rilly rilly rilly nice to double the rail capacity between New Jersey and Manhattan.  Yes, the construction jobs would would be good for the economy and the increased rail capacity would boost housing values.  But the construction money has to come from somewhere, the state already is in a deep financial hole, and I was pleased but not surprised that Christie pulled the plug.

Then I was surprised but not pleased to hear, one day later, that the governor was waffling on the decision, after a meeting with federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

“The fact that the ARC [Access to the Region’s Core] project is not financially viable and is expected to dramatically exceed its current budget remains unchanged,” Christie said in a statement Friday. “However, this afternoon Secretary LaHood presented several options to potentially salvage a trans Hudson tunnel project. At the secretary’s request, I’ve agreed to have executive director of NJ Transit Jim Weinstein and members from his team work with U.S. Department of Transportation staff to study those options over the next two weeks.”

However this turns out, the waffling reflects badly on the Republican governor.  I generally have little use for Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg, but I can’t argue with his statement today:

“Why we couldn’t have talked five weeks ago, or six weeks ago, I don’t understand.”

(The “we” is a nice touch — as near as I can tell, the Senator wasn’t actually in the meeting, he just went running to find a camera afterward.)

I don’t understand why Governor Christie would jeopardize his hard-won reputation for standing firm in the face of intense pressure. Presumably we’ll know more about what happened within a couple of weeks.

Governor Christie Kicks Ass and Takes Names

I couldn’t bring myself to vote for Chris Christie, because of his extreme anti-gay position, and I imagine I’ll have occasion again to oppose him on that topic.  In the meantime, I love listening to him talk about the budget and take on the teachers unions, as in the video above.  If you don’t have the time or patience to watch all 9:50 of it, skip ahead to the 9 minute mark and you’ll get a good flavor from his peroration.

The governor also is making good use of social media to take his message to people directly and unfiltered.  Every video turned out by his communications staff ends with the screen shot below, urging people to connect with Christie on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.  He inherited a budget deficit more than one-third as large as the entire state budget, and he’s going to have to make a lot of cuts in a lot of places to avoid raising taxes, as he has promised not to do.  I like his chances — listening to him is like a breath of fresh air compared to most politicians.

Why Christie’s on the Right Track, in Three Paragraphs

New Jersey’s new governor is determined to reverse the state’s “failed experiment”, which consists of taxes chasing deficits in an ever-ascending spiral.  A Barron’s article does the most concise job I’ve seen of explaining what he’s up against, and why his efforts should be supported.

Photo: NY Post

Unlike his predecessors, Republican Gov. Chris Christie has recognized that high taxes were a problem, not the solutions to the state’s fiscal woes. The Tax Foundation ranks New Jersey as the highest in the nation in state and local taxes as a percentage of income. It’s especially bad for top earners: 4.4% of individuals account for 55% of personal income-tax revenue.

Even though the state faces a $10.7 billion deficit — equal to more than one-third of the total budget — in fiscal 2011 starting July, Christie has refused to raise taxes and further increase this tax burden. Indeed, he has recommended not renewing a 2% “millionaire tax” enacted by former Gov. Jon Corzine, so that the top state income-tax bracket will revert to 8.97%, still among the highest in the nation.

In addition, New Jersey homeowners pay the highest property taxes in the nation, $7,281 on average annually. That represents a 90% increase from 1999 to 2009 — a trend that is driving wealthy New Jerseyans to other states — mainly Florida, Pennsylvania and even New York, according to Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy. As [municipal bond analyst Howard J.] Cure notes, for years the migration went in the other direction across the Hudson as heavily taxed New Yorkers sought relief in New Jersey.

When your budget deficit is more than a third of your total budget, you need more than tweaks and nudges to return to financial stability.  I strongly suspect that some additional taxation will occur, but when your taxes are the highest in the nation, “no tax increases” is the right starting point for debate.  In any discussion of New Jersey’s finances, the burden of proof should be on anyone who opposes spending cuts.  After taking on the powerful teachers unions, I hope Christie continues to play hardball.

New Jersey Is “A Failed Experiment”

New Jersey “should be seen as the failed experiment for other states and the country … Spend beyond your means and then kill your tax revenue base by raising taxes 115 times in eight years, and then you’re New Jersey.”

Who is this trash-talking, Jersey-bashing heretic attacking my beloved adopted state? Well, he’s the new Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie.  And I find myself liking him more every time I hear him speak.

I reluctantly voted for Corzine in November, because of Christie’s vow to support a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.  Then the cause of same-sex marriage in New Jersey suffered a serious setback when the Senate refused to pass a bill in the waning days of the Corzine administration.   That battle eventually will be refought, and I expect  I’ll take my shots at Governor Christie then.

But for now, I’m pleased that Christie’s fighting the good fight on fiscal responsibility.  The screen capture above from Christie’s recent interview with MSNBC’s token conservative, Joe Scarborough, tells the story starkly.   Firing up my calculator, the state budget deficit works out to be more than 36% of the total state budget.  It may not be an apples-to-apples comparison, but Obama’s larded-up federal budget deficit appears to work out to “only” 33%.

Christie is making the right kind of enemies.  One foolish teachers union official undermined the union’s cause by essentially praying for Christie’s death.  And what did the governor do to provoke this death wish? From The Daily Riff:

The proposal by Christie: No job cuts in the education sector if teachers contribute 1 and 1/2 percent of their salary to pay for benefits (approx. $750. per year) and have a one-year pay freeze.  If not, approximately 1300 jobs will be cut.

Wow, the teachers might have to pay a whole $750 per year (63 bucks a month, about the same as their union dues) for their generous public-employee health insurance. Between the reasonableness of the proposal and the outrageousness of the death wish, I think the governor will be on pretty solid ground when the layoffs inevitably start.

The 11-minute Scarborough interview is worth watching in its entirety for its look at the plain-spoken and candid governor, who talks to voters like adults.