not a rocket surgeon
Join Date: Jan 2006
Location: East of the Jordan, West of the Rock of Gibraltar
Stile: Christie livid over Dems' use of tax data
Chris Christie doesn't like to lose control of the Chris Christie narrative.
His carefully crafted YouTube videos make him look like a hero. His town hall-style meetings put him in control of a stage and a microphone. For the most part, Christie gets to say what he wants without being challenged. The crowds lap it up. It's all a smashing success.
But the ruling Democrats, who have watched Christie with a mixture of fascination and fury, have finally found a tool to craft their own narrative of Christie's fiscal stewardship - those grim, monthly reports detailing the state's tax collections, compiled by his own Treasury Department.
And it's driving him bonkers.
So, with his characteristic flair, the governor lashed back - at least symbolically - on Friday by vetoing a minor piece of legislation requiring him to deliver monthly revenue reports to the Legislature. No one saw it coming, and why should they? The bill, backed by both parties, simply gave the force of law to an executive order Christie himself had signed on his second day on the job in 2010.
It was the veto language that caught everybody's attention. Christie ordered that the bill be rewritten to include a $10,000 fine for "unauthorized" release of revenue data. It was a clear shot at Democrats who have been playing hardball over the summer, leaking data that raised doubts that New Jersey can afford the governor's much-touted income-tax cut and that his rosy economic outlook matches reality on the Jersey street.
Democrats, suddenly role-playing as fiscal conservatives, used the less-than-stellar revenue reports to deny Christie a tax cut in June, two months before he delivered his keynote speech to the Republican National Convention. Democrats have said they might agree to a cut if Christie's estimates hit their mark in January, but the first revenue reports are not promising.
But it was another pre-convention kerfuffle that spurred Christie to write Friday's veto. A legislative report in mid-August suggested that his current budget might be saddled with a $542 million shortfall from the previous year, which, if true, could virtually wipe out the surplus set aside for emergencies.
Although the actual shortfall later proved to be a far lower $240 million, Christie was trumped by a leak. He was suddenly in a defensive crouch, batting down a counter-narrative to his upbeat outlook.
"You have these doom-and-gloom Democrats down there who, just for their own political purposes, want to continue telling people that what they are seeing in New Jersey about the state & doing better is not what they should believe," Christie said Monday, explaining his veto. "I wish they'd stop playing politics and start doing."
Democrats voiced outrage at the proposed $10,000 fine, accusing Christie of trying to choke off the flow of routine revenue data to the Legislature because it might not suit his public relations strategy.
"We all want the revenues to increase, but just because we have a couple bad months of reporting doesn't mean we have the right to suppress that information from a co-equal branch of government and, more importantly, the public," said Sen. Paul Sarlo, the Wood-Ridge Democrat.
The fact is that, despite the drama, Christie's veto changes nothing. Although it effectively kills the legislation, Christie's executive order - requiring him to release monthly revenue updates by the 10th day of each month - remains in effect.
And there will be no suppressing of revenue data; the administration will continue to share tax-collection data whenever requested by the Office of Legislative Services, the non-partisan research and legal arm of the Legislature. A 1948 law obligates them to do so, officials said.
Christie has a point that the Democrats are playing politics with his budget. But he invited this kind of heightened scrutiny by cobbling together a $31.7 billion budget based on an aggressive bet that revenues would grow by 7.3 percent, the most optimistic forecast in the nation. Things looked so promising, Christie said in January, that the state could afford an across-the-board tax cut.
The economy has refused to cooperate, and each successive monthly revenue report, whether released on schedule or leaked, has belied Christie's now-mothballed "Jersey Comeback" slogan. Democrats, knowing that Christie wanted to enact the tax cut this year, saw the budget as a Christie campaign document. It's doubtful that the veto threat will deter them from leaking future OLS memos when the numbers make Christie look bad.
The governor said Monday that the $10,000 fine was also necessary because leaks of preliminary revenue numbers could scare away investors from snapping up New Jersey bonds.
"If they're [Democrats] & serious about wanting to have a positive effect on the markets, they would put a provision in there to penalize people who leak stuff to all of you before stuff is final," Christie told reporters, adding, "But I'm going to stop having this month-to-month circus."