Gov. Chris Christie’s State of the State address was full of numbers and percentages, claims and assertions about how much better life in the Garden State has grown in the past year — under the governor’s guidance.
We have no problem with that. Where it gets dicey is when Christie gets it wrong — sometimes slightly, sometimes seriously.
In order to set the record straight, here’s a look at a few of Christie’s claims — and the real numbers.
Christie said: Back then (five years ago), New Jersey’s highest-in-the nation property taxes had increased more than 70 percent in 10 years. We averaged a 7 percent growth in property taxes per year. Today, we have had four years of less than 2 percent annual property tax growth.
The Truth: At first it sounds as if the governor is in the ballpark. In his first four years taxes rose 2.5 percent annually.
But what Christie isn’t saying is that he drastically cut the tax rebate in 2008, driving property tax increases to 5.1 percent annually between 2008 and 2011. And eviscerating the rebate was particularly tough on seniors and others on limited incomes. The administration has stopped reporting average rebate data and retroactively removed data from 2008 – 2011.
New Jersey, the Solar Powerhouse
Christie said: New Jersey is No. 3 in the nation when it comes to solar installations.
The Truth: He’s right. We’re in third place. What the governor isn’t saying is that we held the second spot when he first took office. And according to the Solar Energy Industries Association New Jersey dropped to seventh place for the most recent quarter in terms of new installations.
Christie said: Back then, state spending had grown by 56 percent in the years from 2001 to 2008. Today, discretionary spending in our state’s budget is $2.5 billion below its level in fiscal year 2008.
The Truth: New Jersey spent 57.9 percent more in FY08 than in FY01. Christie’s proposed FY15 budget is 2.5 percent higher than what was spent in FY08.
Christie said: Since last January, the total number of people employed in New Jersey has grown by over 90,000, and the number of unemployed has dropped by nearly 30,000 … We have cut unemployment by over one-third in the last five years … And we have created over 150,000 private-sector jobs in New Jersey in five short years.
The Truth: The governor comes close with a few of his statistics. There were 93,100 more people employed in November 2014 (the latest month for which data is available) than in January 2014. Unemployment dropped by 25,200 between January 2014 and November 2014, and the number of unemployed has dropped 34 percent since January 2010. There were 146,500 more New Jerseyans at work than in January 2010.
Christie said: Today, the health of the pension system is stronger than it was five years ago.
The Truth: The governor needs to take off those rose-colored glasses. According to the Status Report of the New Jersey Pension and Health Benefit Study Commission, three bond-rating firms downgraded New Jersey’s rating a total of five times between April and September of 2014 because of the state’s unfunded pension and retiree health benefit liability.
New Jersey’s pension-funding ratio is the fourth worst in the nation. And Christie’s FY2014 budget cut pension funding by $900 million; the current budget underfunds public pensions by $1.5 billion. These reductions are the subject of a lawsuit pending in state Superior Court.
Christie Said: Finally, for four years in a row, we’ve provided a record amount in aid to our public schools — over $11.9 billion in the current fiscal year.
The Truth: The governor’s off by more than a few bucks here: $7.95 billion is the amount typically used for the current school year. And according to the nonpartisan Office of Legislative services, that’s more than a billion dollars shy of what’s required by the state school-funding formula.