Jersey attitude, but little progress

So much has been written about Gov. Chris Christie during the seven years he has served as New Jersey’s chief executive that the articles, columns and editorials will fill volumes.

Much has been made of the governor’s feisty personality and his “in your face” interactions with anyone who challenges him on a variety of subjects.

To me, much of his New Jersey attitude has been for show and in my final analysis, when I look back at Christie’s tenure as governor I will think of it as a disappointment. I think Christie could have done more to improve the quality of life for many Garden State residents.

You may remember that before he ran for governor in 2009, Christie was the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey and he put corrupt politicians and public employees squarely in his sights. Daily news accounts reported indictments and convictions of public officials and public employees who had used their elected positions for their own gain.

Here is what I wrote in a column just before Election Day 2009: “Chris Christie, a crime-busting U.S. attorney who will be remembered in New Jersey for putting a bunch of corrupt politicians and other public servants behind bars, has shown me nothing in this campaign that makes me want to vote for him.

“Christie should have been on the campaign trail from Day 1 with this message for New Jersey’s suburban residents: ‘I know your property taxes are too high because we are not distributing school aid in an equitable manner. When I am elected governor I will make it a priority to change that unacceptable situation.’

“Heck, even if Christie was lying, I would have believed that he had a grasp of the situation and probably would have voted for him. I am not convinced that Christie understands the property tax problem.”

I voted for independent candidate Chris Daggett in that election.

My words were backed up early in Christie’s first term when he invited the editors of weekly newspapers, myself included, to breakfast at the governor’s home in Princeton for a casual conversation.

When the conversation turned to property taxes, Christie said property taxes in New Jersey would never go down and the best that anyone could hope for was that they would remain stable.

To be fair, that was probably a fair assessment by the governor and he did eventually enact a 2 percent tax levy cap (with some exceptions) that forced municipal and county officials to take a hard look at their budgets every year in order to meet the requirements of the tax levy cap.

The result was that instead of seeing property taxes increase by 6 and 7 percent on an annual basis, property owners in general saw a smaller annual increase. It was not perfect, but it was some progress.

To me, the governor’s biggest failure since he took office in 2010 has been his inability to bring meaningful change to the way state school aid is distributed. He spent his first seven years in office ignoring the issue and then “found religion” on the issue in this, his final year. It was too little, too late.

Quoting again from my 2009 column, I wrote, “I am not breaking any ground here, but this is the bottom line: Unless the state changes the way it doles out school aid to suburban school districts and stops forcing suburban residents to fund their own schools and a substantial part of the school districts in some of New Jersey’s cities, property taxes in our suburban towns are not going to drop.

“Our voices on this issue are not being heard by the candidates. Your property taxes will not stay stable, they will not drop, they will continue to rise until the Garden State’s suburban towns get more school aid back from Trenton. That is a fact.”

Part of the problem during Christie’s tenure was that Democrats controlled the state Senate and Assembly and would never act on meaningful school funding reform.

Christie, who is a bully on matters of little or no consequence, was no bully on what much of New Jersey really needed – more state school aid to suburban communities.

Christie has come up short in other ways and New Jersey has been left lagging in transportation, the economy and our infrastructure.

In the end, we had a leader who lost interest in being governor and put significant time into running for president, leaving our state adrift. That is why I deem his tenure a disappointment and why I am concerned about the future of the state I have called home since 1971.

And this year’s election for governor? It’s Democrat Phil Murphy vs. Republican Kim Guadagno, who has served as Christie’s lieutenant governor for seven years.

I am fearful that Murphy, who is a heavy favorite to claim the office, will, in conjunction with a Democratic Senate and Assembly, kill the 2 percent tax levy cap and allow municipalities to return to the higher spending levels that preceded Christie’s term as governor.

Mark Rosman is a managing editor with Newspaper Media Group.