By Tom Moran
March 17, 2010, 5:01AM
TRENTON — Gov. Wrecking Ball waited outside the Assembly chamber seconds before taking the stage. He was pumped, like a high school linebacker about to take the field.
“I’m ready,” he said. “I don’t suffer much from indecision. You’re not going to hear me whine and moan and complain about how hard this is. I wanted this job.”
With that, two State Troopers pushed open the tall wooden doors, and the governor strode to the podium. The Chris Christie era had begun.
Watching this man in action is a relief after the Jon Corzine years. He is decisive where Corzine waffled. His language is crisp where Corzine’s was convoluted. He is not afraid to take risks. He likes to lead.
And his speech contained much to like. He would fix the outrageous system of binding arbitration that has escalated public salaries to the point where the average cop in a town like Edison makes over $100,000.
He took on the dark lords of the teachers union, pointing out that they are not protecting children when they refuse to contribute to their own health insurance plans, or when they block New Jersey’s attempt to win federal stimulus money over their objection to merit pay.
He rightly called the steady growth in government over the last 20 years a threat to the state’s economy. He slammed schools and towns for adding 11,300 new employees last year, despite the recession, a move that he called “madness.” It was all satisfying stuff. The new guy was making sense.
And then he blew it. Because he stuck with his plan to cut taxes for the rich. He asked no real sacrifice from them at a time when the state needs everyone to climb out of the car and help push.
With this tax cut, he would hand out $1 billion to families who earn more than $400,000, the richest two percent.
“This is a Ronald Reagan trickle-down program,” said Sen. President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat.
Democrats have only one big move to make on this budget, and there it was. They will press to repeal that tax cut, and to use the $1 billion in revenue to scale back the more painful spending cuts.
Sweeney is a smart enough politician to know that if Democrats are seen as obstructionist, they will be squashed like bugs against Christie’s windshield as he speeds towards his re-election.
But by drafting a budget that is plainly tilted in favor of the rich, Christie gave them an opening.
Middle-class families will see most of their property tax rebates disappear. They’ll pay more for college tuition, and to ride buses and trains. Cuts to schools and towns will drive up their property taxes even more.
The poor get hit, too. This budget would cut $45 million from the wage subsidy program for the working poor enacted under Gov. Christie Whitman. It would bar parents from health care programs, a move that would inevitably hit poor kids. And it pinches housing aid for the homeless.
You don’t have to be poor for that to offend your sense of fair play. According to a Rutgers University poll released last week, New Jersey voters oppose this tax cut for the wealthy by a margin of 2-1.
Democrats Tuesday were smelling political opportunity.
“This budget is an attack on the middle class,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex).
So how will this unfold? Consider first that Republicans will be in lockstep support, which will leave Christie only a handful shy of a majority.
“Would you want to step out of line with him?” asked Assemblyman John Bramnick (R-Union). “I don’t think so.”
Democrats probably won’t stick together. But Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver have the statutory power to block any bill from advancing, including Christie’s budget.
On Tuesday, Christie promised to veto any bill that raises taxes. And he seems to mean it.
But Oliver on Tuesday was sharply critical of this budget. And Sweeney, a former ironworker, said the governor is not the only one who can draw lines in the sand.
“There’s a negotiation that’s going to have to take place on that,” Sweeney said.
And there it stands. Both Christie and the Democratic leadership have the power to stop this train in its tracks. The only question is whether they will make a deal, or come to blows.