New York, NY –
The smart thing is: he learned from history. remember 1989 when Jim Florio had just been elected and he found out the state’s budget deficit was much worse than he had been told by the outgoing republican governor? That was the reason for the now-infamous florio tax hikes. Florio thought he had little choice if he wanted to preserve government services and improve education. He may have been right on policy, but politically the tax hikes were a disaster. florio ended up a one-term governor because of them.
Jim McGreevey is also taking office into the teeth of a recession. but look what HE did this week: he released his own budget projections that say the deficit will be even WORSE than the outgoing republican governor thinks. McGreevey vowed not to raise taxes and warned the people of the garden state that painful budget cuts lie ahead. The goal is obvious: build credibility. Then, if the cuts prove too dire, he’ll be able to say he tried everything else first, and if he ever does propose a tax hike, it might actually win popular support. McGreevey even demanded that the outgoing republican governor freeze spending and not waste one taxpayer dollar. Get it? he reversed the political roles: fiscally conservative democrat warns big-spending republican. A smart start for the young governor-elect.
Now the creative thing: McGreevey reaffirmed that no matter how bad the budget deficit, no matter how much he has to cut from anything else, he will fulfill his campaign promise to hire tutors to make sure that all third graders can read. This will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. But education is the number one social issue in the state as in the country right now, and government spending on third grade literacy is seen as about as wholesome as government spending gets. It’s even the right thing to do.
This too shows an awareness of history. mayor Dinkins of New York got socked with huge recession deficits every year of his term in the early 90s. but as he cut nearly everything else, Dinkins still managed to find the money for one huge increase in spending on one huge priority: the big police buildup when the public got fed up with crime. The results have been spectacular. By standing firm on third grade tutors, McGreevey is signalling he can be a budget hawk and accomplish something important at the same.
by the way, Mike bloomberg should also take note. Like McGreevey, Bloomberg is establishing his budget hawk credentials early. Now let’s see if he can find HIS creative stroke to do something new for New York.
Just one other thought here - something i can't prove: it is possible that McGreevey may have purposely overestimated the fiscal trouble New Jersey is in, or at least adopted the worst case scenario as his official scenario. This too is smart. If things turn out to actually be that bad, McGreevey will have earned his fiscal responsibility badge. If not, he’ll have a surplus on his hands and that will make voters smile at him too.
Host, The Brian Lehrer Show
Brian Lehrer is host of The Brian Lehrer Show, WNYC Radio's daily call-in program, covering politics and life, locally and globally. The show airs weekdays from 10am-noon on WNYC 93.9 FM, AM 820 and wnyc.org.