How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Chris Christie is decisive, but divisive

New Jersey Newsroom, August 30, 2010
By Irwin Stoolmacher

The hallmark of Governor Christie's tenure to date — his basic modus operandi — has been to come up with up with "shake things up" approaches to our state's big problems and not address the underlying causes of the problem.

The latest example is his proposal to take control of the Atlantic City casino and entertainment district. The takeover would involve the state assuming responsibility for everything from police protection to garbage removal in the area encompassed by the casinos, marina beachfront, Boardwalk areas and convention center. The Governor is seeking to create a "clean and safe" city within Atlantic City and then have it overseen by a separate authority directly under his auspices.

As has been the case with many of the Governor's bold actions, I can't figure out how his latest "dramatic direction" will address the underlying cause of the substantial fall-off in Atlantic City revenue over the last few years. Experts seem to agree that the downward slide in Atlantic City is directly attributable to competition from Pennsylvania "slot barn" casinos built at horse-racing tracks. According to these slot-only venues have drained "more than $1 billion in lost gambling revenue and close to 8,000 casino jobs since 2007."

The Governor's bold action does not address the competition issue, the changing market forces or the fact that Atlantic City currently spends about $4 million in a year in marketing while Las Vegas spends $100 million annually.

This is not the first time that he has come up with a radical approach to a complex problem that does not get at the root causes of the problem. It's exactly what occurred with regard to the 2.0% property tax cap. Governor Christie has touted a tax cap as the only solutions to New Jersey's property tax crisis. In doing this he cites Massachusetts as the poster child for the program.

He failed to point out that the "Governor and legislators in [Massachusetts], fearing the suffering that could take place in municipalities who lose so much locally generated revenue as a result of Prop. 2.5 increased state aid to cities and towns during the 1980s by a whopping 425 percent. That's right, an average of 42.5 percent a year for 10 years in the two major categories of non-school local aid: lottery aid and additional assistance. Yes, there was some pain in communities along the way, but 42.5 percent a year went a long way toward easing the suffering and allowing the public to believe they could actually lower property taxes and still maintain the vital services they need and expected." This quote from Jay Ash, the city manager of Chelsea, Massachusetts, says it all.

Unlike Massachusetts, New Jersey isn't able to increase state aid. In order to balance the budget, local aid was cut dramatically (a $42 million cut to the City of Trenton). This caused most New Jersey cities and many municipalities to either sharply reduce their payrolls or resort to draconian tax increases. New Jersey needs real property tax reform. Simply put, we rely too heavily on property taxes to finance government services. Real property tax reform will not come solely by making budget cuts; although it is a key component of the solution. It will also require shifting the tax burden away from property taxes to more equitable taxes that are based on one's ability to pay.

The same approach was taken with regard to education where $1.1 billion was slashed. I have no doubt that our Governor will continue to disregard the "thorough and efficient" provision of the constitution, arguing that supplemental funding to the Abbott districts have not produced the results that our children deserve and that the distribution of funds rests with the executive and legislative branches. Instead of pressing for better use of funds, the simplistic solution of choice will be reduced state funding, which will further institutionalize the divide between affluent and the less affluent school districts in our state.

Likewise, the Governor has used the same game plan to attack the problem of providing desperately needed affordable housing in New Jersey. He has called for the elimination of the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) and the bureaucratic quagmire it has wrought; but he has not proposed a long-range solution to the dearth of affordable housing in New Jersey

Early on in his administration Governor Christie called for "shared sacrifice." The initial impact of his policies appears to have had the opposite effect. The result of his philosophy and government actions he has taken (often with legislative support) is the creation of two New Jerseys, one that supposedly can soar to great heights without "government interference;" the other one allowed to fall further behind. The Governor's state takeover of Atlantic City will result in the creation of a gated glitzy city within a dilapidated city. Tax caps and school budgets will be consistently overridden in affluent suburban communities and almost never overridden in our cities. The result will be New Jersey's wealthier communities will have a wide range of government amenities while the majority of towns and cities will lack the most basic of necessities because they can't afford them. Further, there will be less affordable housing in our state.

I do not like the Governor Christie's new New Jersey vision. It is decisive, but divisive.