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A tale of two governors

Posted by Richard on July 20, 2010

I supported the successful gubernatorial campaigns of both New Jersey's Chris Christie and Virginia's Bob McDonnell. I'll support the former again in the future. But not the latter. Both governors are Republicans who claim to be fiscal conservatives, and both came into office facing budget crises. The difference in how they handled them is highly instructive, and it's a reminder that there's still plenty of rotten fruit in the GOP barrel.

Gov. Christie faced an $11 billion budget deficit, and all the powers that be in both parties declared that closing it would require a combination of "painful" cuts and tax increases (ever notice that tax increases are never described as "painful"?). Christie would have none of it. He insisted that the people of New Jersey were already overtaxed. He took on the teachers, firefighters, and police, among others, challenging their generous pensions, pay, and other benefits. He vetoed every tax increase the Democratic legislature sent him. He faced down the special interests, entrenched bureaucrats, and career pols. The result? He's immensely popular, and his balanced budget passed virtually unchanged. It's the lowest state budget in four years. 

Now, Christie is pushing a Constitutional limit on property tax increases (he's highly likely to win this fight, too). And his next big push will be for major public employee pension reforms. Christie is uncompromising, true to his word, and refreshingly direct and honest. Scores of YouTube videos of him at public appearances, addressing the legislature, etc., make it clear why some people are calling him a political "rock star." Here's a recent interview with Paul Gigot.

[YouTube link]

Meanwhile, in Virginia, Gov. McDonnell faced a $1.8 billion budget deficit. He recently crowed about turning it into a $220 million surplus. Did he, too, stare down the special interests and big-spending pols? Did he, too, cut spending by 10%? Um, apparently not. Apparently McDonnell's approach was more "go along to get along," and the surplus is being called a fraud.

It seems that McDonnell balanced the budget by borrowing from the pension fund. And by forcing retailers to remit sales taxes for July in June, before they'd even begun to collect them. And by raising taxes on manufacturers and increasing a plethora of "fees."

So, about that $220 million surplus — surely, the guv used it to partially repay the pension fund (since unlike Christie, he doesn't seem inclined to take on a pension reform battle). Or maybe he set it aside to cover the lack of sales tax revenue in July of the new fiscal year. Or maybe he just saved it for a rainy day, since Virginia's tax revenues are still declining.

None of the above. He immediately spent it:

McDonnell told a news conference that the money will go to a $82 million, 3 percent one-time bonus for state employees, to local school divisions, to the Water Quality Improvement Fund and to the transportation trust fund. 

I'd like to see Chris Christie become President. And I'd like to see Bob McDonnell recognized as the poster child for what's wrong with the Republican Party. 

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