Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie averted a shutdown of state government by axing $900 million from the budget Democrats handed him late last night. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, John Mooney, education writer and co-founder of njspotlight.com, discussed the latest news and what it means for the Garden State.
Cuts to womens' health services
Of the $900 million Governor Chris Christie struck from New Jersey's budget, $7.5 million would have gone to state-supported womens' health centers. It's a small fraction of the pie, but among the most contentious, touching on issues like abortion access and government aid to the poor. Just what are these centers, and who usually benefits from them? John Mooney explained:
These are not clinics that conduct abortions. These are more womens' health and gynecological programs for low-income individuals and those who need them. [Christie] has contended that these could be provided elsewhere.
Christie has argued that the services provided by state clinics could be picked up by centers run by the federal government. How accurate is his assumption? Depends on who you ask. One caller said it didn't make sense for Christie to cut funding for the state-run clinics since the federal government previously offered matching funds for the program—a measure that Christie vetoed.
Mooney said it wasn't about the money.
There's a pretty strong feeling that this is part of a broader national agenda, and it has fed some of the talk that he has some national ambitions, but he's certainly reaching out to the pro-life side of the argument. New Jersey is more of a pro-choice state, but it's something he's been unwavering on.
School aid and the coming elections
Democrats in the state legislature proposed $1.5 billion in additional aid to New Jersey's public schools, hoping to fully fund all districts under the state funding formula. That measure became another victim of Christie's line item veto: though he agreed to abide by a State Supreme Court decision ordering half a billion in aid to the poorest districts, Christie scaled back elsewhere, giving Democrats far less than they asked for, but still about double what he would have proposed.
Mooney said that the legislature had to know they wouldn't be getting most of what they requested, but Christie's vetoes could turn into ammunition for the Left this fall. He said this is as much about Democrats positioning themselves for the coming legislature elections as it is about actual policy.
I wonder about whether specifically Christie or some of these Republican legislators are really going to bear the brunt of this...It's a tough time to be selling $1.5 billion in additional aid to schools, but certainly Christie's a very polarizing figure in this state. He's not on the ballot this year, but I think he's going to be felt in a lot of the elections.
Nothing much to lose
Ultimately, Mooney said none of the cuts were surprising. The timing was such that most institutions facing cuts were already prepared for them; because everyone saw it coming, nobody was penciling much state money into their annual budgets.
What's more, Christie's already had to deal with an entirely-Democratic legislature. The best thing that can happen to the governor this fall is that Republicans win one or both houses; the worst thing that could happen is that he gets stuck with the status quo—and Christie's shown he can still get his way over an opposing legislature. There's a lot to gain and not a whole lot to lose, said Mooney.
This was a pretty smart one; he hasn't disrupted things too much. Even the school cuts, probably the biggest ones of the budget, were already struck for the fall, and their tax bills are already going out. It's not like this was money that's going to lead to yet more layoffs in the schools.