New Jersey State Sport: Kick the Can ?>

New Jersey State Sport: Kick the Can

New Jersey government – including both the Governor and the Assembly – has been good at only one thing in 2016: kicking the can down the road.

Under Chris Christie, we’ve contributed more to the public pension fund than under any recent governor.  Nonetheless our pension debt is staggering. Paying out state funds for future goals is painful but necessary.

We let our Transportation Trust Fund go dry.  We’ve stopped all maintenance on our transportation infrastructure.  That’s good for a few months, but it doesn’t work long term.  Ask riders of the New York Subway system. Kick the can down the road and it becomes a barrel.

We let Atlantic City and its municipal government fall into bankruptcy.  Christie gave the city a hundred-fifty days to get its house in order.  That pushes the day of reckoning until 3 November.  The state will take over Atlantic City on that date if the city cannot put its financial house in order.  That doesn’t solve the problem.  It just shifts ownership.  The state lent money to Atlantic City.  Lending doesn’t cost anything … until the loan goes sour. The state will own Atlantic City and all its problem on November 4th.

The disrepair of the Hudson River rail tunnels was underscored by Sandy damage.  After Christie’s rejection of the ARC Tunnel plan in 2010, all of the environmental studies and permits need to be redone of the renamed Gateway Project.  The results is that the next big money question will arise after the 2017 elections.  Great.  We kicked the can down the road once again.  Every time we do, the cost of the tunnel goes up.

Chris Christie is the focal point of these discussions, but there’s plenty of blame to be assigned to the Assembly.  Instead of voting to increase the state’s exceptionally low gasoline tax or find an alternative source of funding, it has occupied itself with voting to establish an animal abusers database.  One cannot blame the Assembly for compassion toward animals, but if the state’s citizens don’t have highways and railroads to get to work, there won’t be money to pay for pet food.  Then one might suppose the animal abuser registry would be of use.

Christie has done much to irritate the population of New Jersey.  He opposed the teachers’ union, to whom our pension obligation is staggering.  At the same time, he oversaw contribution to their pension fund that exceeded any of his predecessors.  He did himself no favors by getting involved in the Bridgegate scandal.  And his association with Donald Trump my help his long term job prospects, but in this state, it only earned him enemies.  The chances of his Lieutenant Governor, Kim Gaudagno, getting elected in 2107 are likely low.

The prospect of a labor-friendly governor and assembly in 2017 has short and long term implications.  Short-term, the Assembly will make peace with the teachers, increasing salaries and pension benefits.  We will abandon our efforts to measure student and teacher performance with PARCC tests.  That will make students and teachers both happy.  Short-term, we’ll crank up highway and transit projects with the highest labor rates in the nation.  It would nice to think that an economy with highway bridge painters making $82 an hour would also support engineers and professionals making the same kinds of money.  The problem is that bridge painters must come from New Jersey.  The jobs requiring engineers can go to Texas or China.

Long term, an abandonment of objective tests in in our schools threatens New Jersey’s reputation of having the best schools in the nation.  Simply paying more to teachers doesn’t guarantee outcomes.  Unless we have the best educated population in 2040, there is no reason to expect that we can host high-paying jobs then either.  In 2040, we’ll have the most expensive highway and transit infrastructure in the nation, but no one to pay off the bonds that paid for it.

That’s worst kind of can-kicking.

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