Budgets Require Tough Choices

The Record
April 6, 2010

Governor Chris Christie’s proposed state budget has New Jerseyans of all stripes talking. Some are worried about cuts to programs on which they depend. Others are frustrated by how their specific industry or profession will fare in this new environment. And most New Jerseyans are looking for relief after being over-taxed for much of the past decade.

In preparing for his budget address on March 16th, Governor Christie was faced with a host of extremely difficult decisions. The combination of nearly a decade of profligate spending and a national recession make balancing a budget with an $11 billion gap a daunting task.

It is particularly difficult – in any economic environment – to produce your first budget as governor because you have to rely on your predecessor’s estimates and figures. In my first year as governor, I found an additional $1 billion of debt that had not been honestly accounted for in public presentations. Going forward, the process becomes more straightforward as you gain full control over the numbers.

Unfortunately but expectedly, the response to the proposed Fiscal Year 2011 budget has not been what Governor Christie’s hard work deserves. On one hand, it is very easy to malign the work of those men and women trying to balance the state budget. On the other hand, it is irresponsible to simply say a decrease in funding for a particular project is wrong, unfair, or mean-spirited without offering a solution. I challenge anyone who opposes a particular cut in the proposed budget – no matter how large or small – to come up with a different solution, dollar for dollar. The process is never easy.

No one – not Governor Christie, not members of the legislature, and not the business leaders in our state – take joy in reducing funding for important, worthwhile programs. But it is time to deal with the economic realities our state is facing.

Like many New Jerseyans, I am concerned about the impact of our budgeting practices on education. Teachers are not our enemies – they are the men and women who are preparing our next generation of leaders, thinkers, and innovators. Yet the undeniable fact is that New Jerseyans’ property taxes primarily go to fund our schools and, therefore, education must be part of the plan to balance the budget. We are facing dire economic straights, and although we very much value our public education, everyone – with no exceptions – has to share the burden of finding solutions.

Governor Christie was dealt a very difficult hand, and he is doing his best to bring our state’s finances in order. I know firsthand both how difficult this can be, and how possible the solutions are. In my time as governor, we held state spending to the lowest rate in 50 years, virtually eliminated the structural deficit, and created a $1.2 billion budget surplus. It was never easy, but always worth the effort.

Governor Christie now faces a similar situation, with perhaps even greater opportunities. To balance the state’s budget will require sacrifice from all New Jerseyans. That sacrifice should not come in the form of higher taxes, more borrowing, and greater debt. Instead, Governor Christie is reducing the size of government in an effort to reduce the tax burden on our citizens now and in the future.

I hope that New Jerseyans take an honest look at the economic situation we face. To endure and ultimately thrive after the worst recession since the Great Depression was never going to be easy, but New Jerseyans are up to this challenge, and I am confident that our state will be stronger and more prosperous for addressing it.