This is the fifth in a series of articles exploring the critical policy challenges that the next governor and Legislature will face, as well as their positions on these issues.
Listening to Republican Gov. Chris Christie and his Democratic opponent Barbara Buono talk about jobs and the economy in New Jersey, you would think they were talking about different states.
Buono sees a state with 400,000 unemployed workers unable to find jobs, a state that ranked 47th in economic growth two years in a row, a state that gives $2.1 billion in tax breaks to corporations, but condemns hundreds of thousands to work for a “starvation wage” of $7.25 an hour because its governor vetoed an increase in the minimum wage. She blames the state of the economy on Christie’s failed “trickle-down, supply-side, Romney-style economics.”
Christie sees a state that created 140,000 jobs in four years and bounced back from superstorm Sandy, a state that turned around an anti-business climate by cutting business taxes and blocking a new millionaire’s tax, a state that merged Rutgers and UMDNJ into a mega-university that can help the state compete for biotech and high-tech jobs. Christie said rebuilding the state's economy was difficult because of the “mess left for us after the Corzine-Buono years.”
What Buono and Christie agree on -- and what voters consistently tell pollsters -- is that supercharging the New Jersey economy and creating jobs are the most important challenges facing the governor and Legislature that will be elected 11 days from now, and the two offer very different visions for how to do it:
While Christie refuses to consider any tax increase and wants to implement more tax cuts, Buono wants to raise taxes on millionaires to fund property tax credits for middle- and low-income New Jerseyans.
While Buono wants voters to pass a constitutional amendment to provide for an automatic increase in the minimum wage, Christie opposes it, arguing that small business owners faced with paying higher wages would be forced to eliminate jobs and cut worker hours.
While Christie defends the massive tax credits offered to companies like Prudential and Panasonic to stay in New Jersey, Buono has called for tax credits to be steered more to small businesses and startups in the biotech, high-tech, and other cutting-edge industries.
And while Buono calls for the state to invest billions of dollars more in providing universal preschool, improving K-12 public school education, lowering college tuition, guaranteeing pay equity for women and sick days for all workers, expanding solar and wind power, and investing in the state’s higher education and transportation infrastructure, including a new rail tunnel to New York, Christie asks a simple question: How are you going to pay for it?
To economists, business leaders and public policy experts, the Christie-Buono debate over economic policy and job creation is part of “the usual witches’ brew of politics and economics,” as Rutgers University economist Joseph Seneca put it, and it is inadequate for the depth of the economic challenge that New Jersey faces.
New Jerseyans understand that that the state is worse off today than it was in 2000, which is why they gave Christie only a 42 percent approval rating for his handling of jobs creation and the economy in a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released this week, even though they are prepared to vote for his reelection in landslide numbers.
New Jersey’s pharmaceutical industry has lost market share to research clusters in California, Massachusetts, and New York; its telecommunications industry has evaporated; and companies are leaving its suburban office parks for 24/7 urban centers with good mass transit.
New Jersey lagged neighboring states in both job and Gross Domestic Product growth before losing 250,000 jobs in the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009, and has only regained 140,000 of the jobs lost, while New York State has been adding private-sector jobs. Further, the jobs created are in industries like hospitality and healthcare that pay less than the high-tech and financial sector jobs lost.