Some Advice for Chris Christie

The Record
November 10, 2009

I was delighted to see New Jersey voters last week choose Chris Christie to be our next governor. I respect and admire Chris, and believe he will do an excellent job for our state.

Many have tried to interpret what Christie’s New Jersey win means for the Republican Party nationally. As much as I would like to believe this is a foreshadowing of things to come, I think this election was much more of a reflection on Jon Corzine than on Barack Obama, save to warn other Democrats facing tough votes in the Congress that the president’s coattails won’t help them much.

In New Jersey, Christie now assumes a government that is $31 billion in debt ($45 billion if you include all liabilities) and an $8 billion structural deficit for FY2010. Despite these figures, it also has the highest property tax rates in the nation and a sales tax tied with five other states for second highest, making New Jersey’s overall tax burden the highest in the nation.

Some would say that raising taxes is the only way to close the gap between revenue and expenses, but spending is what has to be brought under control. Throughout his campaign, Chris discussed the need to cut wasteful spending, and I know he will remain committed to that as governor.

We also have to think about encouraging the other means of collecting state revenue: growing businesses. Unemployment has risen to almost 10 percent in New Jersey. In fact, since the beginning of the decade, our state has lost more than 450,000 private sector jobs.

New Jersey is ranked dead last in states with a business-friendly climate, according to the Tax Foundation, and that must be reversed if we are to close the budget gaps, pay down our debt, get back on solid financial footing and help people afford to live in this state.

I know Christie can turn the state around; after all, when Republicans recaptured the State House and the governor’s mansion in 1993, our policies ensured that the growth in state revenues were consistently greater than the growth in state spending. It was the increase in revenues, along with prudent spending policies, that allowed a steady increase in the state surplus (from $100 million in FY1994 to $1.2 billion in FY2001). In contrast, the state’s debt load doubled after I left office in January of 2001 from $15 billion in fiscal year 2002 to $31 billion today. In other words, in just seven years, the Democrats in power have created more debt than had been acquired in all the prior years combined.

So Christie certainly has his work cut out for him. I have confidence that he will handle the job well. In his work as U.S. attorney he has shown himself to be tough, hard-working and judicious, and I know that the governor’s office will be well-served by these qualities.

I do have some advice, however, for the new governor. First, find people you trust. You cannot do everything on your own, so select a Cabinet and advisers on whose wisdom you can rely. You set the policy, but trust their advice and let them do their best work.

Second, don’t forget to use your lieutenant governor (although I doubt she would let you even if you wanted to!) You have a resource that no governor before you has had, which gives you the opportunity, along with Kim Guadagno, to shape this role into something that will be highly beneficial to the state.
She is a bright and thoughtful woman who will be an excellent addition to New Jersey’s leadership.

Prioritize now. It will be easy to become distracted by the problems of the day, but do not let the urgent get in the way of the important. You need to decide now in what areas you intend to make your deepest marks and start pursuing them with vigor.

Of course, you will have to do some responding along the way, but try to stay focused on the things you most want to accomplish throughout your administration.

Finally, enjoy it. It is the greatest job in the world and it will be over before you know it.