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New Jersey Jokes
Republicans and Democrats in the Garden State
Nineteen ninety-seven is an off-year for mainstream electoral politics in the United Statesthere are no House or Senate races and only two states are holding gubernatorial contestsso considerable national attention will be focused on the New Jersey governors election. The implications of this election may go well beyond the Garden State. Christine Todd Whitman, the Republican incumbent seeking a second term, is often mentioned as her partys vice-presidentialor even presidentialnominee for the year 2000. The New Jersey race shows what we can expect from the "socially liberal" wing of the Republican party and from their pathetic Democratic party opponents.
The centerpiece of Whitmans first term in office was her campaign pledge to cut the state income tax by 30 percent. This pledge is credited with winning her the State House in 1993 over incumbent Democratic governor Jim Florio, and has been mimicked by many other GOP office-seekers, with varying degrees of success.
Whitman didnt have much of a record to run on in 1993. She had never held higher elected office than county freeholder and, indeed, her sense of civic responsibility was exposed as rather thin when it was discovered that she hadnt even bothered to vote on her towns school budget (because her children went to private school, she explained), causing the budget to fail by a single voteand yet she wanted to be governor so she could set education policy for all the states children.
Whitman came from a prominent upper-class Republican family, which she parlayed into an unremarkable few years as head of the State Board of Public Utilities (appointed there by Governor Tom Kean, a family friend). In 1990, when the GOP needed a sacrificial lamb to run against the assumed-to-be unbeatable Democratic Senator Bill Bradley, she took up the challenge. In the campaign, she hammered Bradley for failing to take a position on Florios major tax increase. Bradley refused to discuss state taxes and outspent her 12 to 1 on a media campaign consisting essentially of scenes from his basketball career. Bradley won the election, but just barely, and Whitman became a Republican celebrity, while the Democrats were shown to be vulnerable on the tax issue.
The 1993 gubernatorial election pitted Whitman against Florio. On many issues, there was not much to distinguish the candidates. Both were pro-choice (anti-abortion Republicans fare poorly in statewide contests in New Jersey). Both pandered to anti-welfare sentiment; Florio criticized Whitman for opposing a bill which denied additional benefits to women who did not identify the father of their child and the state National Organization for Women narrowly voted to endorse Whitman over the objections of local chapters. Both candidates were in favor of the death penalty; the Democrats accused Whitman of being soft on crime (false) and soft on assault weapons (true). The Democrats were able to get some mileage out of the fact that Whitman took a farming deduction on the property taxes for her personal estate, and they mocked her statement that "funny as it seems, $500 is a lot of money" to many people.
Polls showed Florio way ahead until six weeks before election day when Whitman, on the advice of her friend Steve Forbes, announced that she would cut the state income tax by 30 percent. Earlier in the campaign, Whitman had denounced Democrats for talking about an election-year tax cut, an idea that she said "insults the intelligence of New Jerseyans and shows contempt for their finances." She refused to be pinned down about how she would fund her tax cut: her handout describing $500 million in vague savings only came to $430 million when you actually bothered to add it up. Cutting taxes, she declared, would "force Trenton to reduce spending." But she also parroted the supply-side mantra that cutting taxes would increase tax revenues.
In 1989, Florio had won election promising not to raise taxes, despite the fact that a State Supreme Court ruling on school funding was imminent. Shortly after he took office, the Court announced its Abbott v. Burke<D> decision which held that New Jerseys method of funding educationheavily reliant on the local property taxwas unconstitutional because it resulted in great disparities in the schooling of rich and poor children. The Court went so far as to argue that given all the other disadvantages experienced by the poor, they neededif anythingmore school spending per capita rather than less.
Florio responded to the Court ruling by raising the states income and sales taxes to provide state funds to low-income districts. The tax hikes did have the effect of reducing the gap in school spending between rich and poor and taking some of the pressure off the property tax. But, as public interest groups noted, Florios plan was far from adequate.
First, as pointed out by the <D>Education Law Center, the organization which had originally brought the funding issue to Court, while Florios plan would reduce the gap between high and low income school districts, it would not equalize educational funding (let alone, provide resources according to need). Thus, poor children would continue to be denied equity and Trenton would still be in non-compliance with the Supreme Courts ruling.
Second, under Florios plan the property tax would remain the major source of school revenues; state funds would account for only 43.5 percent of education funding, compared to a national average of about 50 percent.
Third, by raising the sales tax as well as the income tax, Florio seriously compromised the principle that taxes ought to be based on the ability to pay. An income tax with graduated rates is a progressive taxit takes higher rates from upper- than from middle- and lower-income families; the sales tax and the property tax, on the other hand, are both regressive taxes, taking a larger share of the income of the poor than of the rich. (Even tenants pay the property tax. It is passed on to them by landlords in the form of higher rent. The New Jersey Department of the Treasury uses the estimate that 18 percent of a tenants rent goes to pay the property tax.) So while it is socially desirable to replace property taxes with income taxesthereby shifting the tax burden to the wealthyreplacing property taxes with higher sales taxes preserves existing regressivity.
New Jersey Citizen Action, the states largest non-profit consumer group, and the Washington-based Citizens for Tax Justice argued that greater reliance on the income tax, with a higher rate on the top income bracket, and on the corporation tax, could have raised the same revenues without the need to increase the regressive sales tax. Such an alternative, they pointed out, would lower taxes for four out of five New Jersey families and be readily acceptable to voters. On the other hand, they warned, it would be difficult to mobilize a majority of voters behind Florios plan.
Sure enough, in November 1990 the Republicans were able to ride anti-tax fever to take over the Legislature and they voted to repeal Florios increase in the sales tax. They also got Florio to agree to redirect a third of all the funds that were supposed to be spent on school aid for low-income districts to provide property tax relief for suburban towns.
Florio added to the anti-government atmosphere by adopting some of the Republicans rhetoric. His goal, he declared in his State of the State address in January 1991, was to have government "as small as it can be, and still doing what it has to do." Government "should have the courage to do what it must do, and the wisdom to get out of the way when someone else can do it better." Nor was this all meaningless rhetoric. For his fiscal year 1992 budget, Florio called for cutting state employees by more than ten percent "because were listening to the people who say that state government needs to be run more efficiently." Seventeen out of nineteen state departments, Florio boasted, would have their budgets cutcorrections being one of those increased; environmental protection and higher education among those cut. With these sorts of budget priorities, it is not surprising that Florio had difficulty making a principled defense of using progressive taxes to accomplish socially desirable goals.
The Whitman-Florio election was extremely close, but Whitman squeaked out a slim victory. The narrowness of the race gave added edge to the boast by Whitman campaign aide Ed Rollins that funds had been spent to depress the turn-out in the African American community. Whitman denied the claim, and Rollins recanted, though in his recent memoir he says that despite the fact that no evidence was found he remains convinced that voter suppression efforts took place. Amid the furor, few noted the comments of Whitmans brother and first campaign manager, who stated that the campaign had employed strategies to achieve "voter sup" and then he stopped himself in mid-word and said "keep the vote light."
In her first 2 years in office, Whitman cut the state income tax by 5 percent, then 10 percent more, and then another 15 percent, meeting her 30 percent campaign pledge ahead of schedule. Top income groups got lower percentage reductions, but in dollar terms the greatest savings went to them. Those with incomes over $2 million, like Christine Todd Whitman and her husband, a Wall Street corporate buy-out specialist, saved at least $13,000 in 1996; a married couple at the state median income of $50,465 saved less than $350.
All told, the income tax cuts reduced Trentons revenues during Whitmans first term by some $3 billion. The challenge for Whitman thus was how to balance the budget given this substantial loss of revenue. Her solution involved a combination of gimmicks, tax-shifting, and cuts.
The most significant gimmick in the Whitman budget has been raiding the pension funds of state employees. Essentially Whitman announced that the pension system was overfunded (because of the booming stock market), so that the state could substantially reduce its contribution. The combined reductions came to about $3 billion, roughly the same amount she cut from the income tax. Pensions, of course, are based on a host of estimates of future economic and demographic conditions, and no one can tell for sure that any particular estimate is right or wrong. But there is certainly reason for concern. Democrats note that a national survey in early 1997 ranked New Jersey at the very bottom in terms of state support of its pension fund. State payments amounted to only one percent of the salaries of covered workers, compared to a national average of more than 8 percent.
For her fiscal year 1998 budget, Whitman asked the legislature to float a $2.76 billion 35-year bond to finance the pension system, allowing Trenton to reduce its annual contribution from $687 million to $40reduce it, that is, until the bond payments become due, and then therell be a heavy price to pay, though not during Whitmans term in office. The repayment schedule has been specially designed so that there are low payments in the early years increasing to 11 times as much by the end. This was the first time that any state government attempted to use bonds to finance pension liabilities and even many Republican legislators were skeptical. The GOP head of the State Senates Budget and Appropriations Committee called the plan "wacko" and "immoral."
Whitmans allies in the Legislature waited until after the June primaries to bring the issue to a vote, so that GOP loyalists would not have to fear voter retribution. With the help of adroit arm-twisting and pork-barrel, Whitman got her narrow majority. The legality of the bond vote, however is questionable. The New Jersey constitution requires that any increase in state debt beyond 1 percent must be approved by the voters. In 1993, Whitman declared that "There was a time in New Jersey when plans to increase the states debt went before the voters for their opinion. If I am elected Governor, the people of this state will be included in those decisions." The Whitman administration now argues (and so far has gotten a judge to agree) that since the legislature has the technical right to refuse to pay off the bond in any particular year, they are not actually adding to the states debt and thus no referendum is required. Nine out of ten New Jerseyans, however, want the opportunity to vote on the matter.
The second method Whitman has used to balance the state budget has been by shifting costs on to localities, which in turn have had to either raise the regressive property tax or see reductions in services.
Whitman claims that under her administration the property tax has gone up less than under any recent governor, and that there is no relation between state spending or state taxes and the property tax. Her claim, however, is extremely slippery. In the four Florio years, total state property tax levies rose 12 percent, 1.4 percent, 4.1 percent, and 4.2 percent, which averages to 5.4 percent. But the first year figure represents the property tax increase before Florios tax package, and it is precisely after the passage of this package that the property tax increase declined to its lowest level in years. In 1992 the Legislature repealed Florios sales tax increase, so Trenton had less money to distribute to municipalities. The last three years of the Florio administrationthat is, since his tax hikesaw an average property tax increase of 3.2 percent, a lower figure than under Whitman (4.2 percent).
In any event, looking at average property tax increases obscures the fact that in some communitiesusually older, blue-collar towns or rapidly growing towns with rising school populationsthe increase was far higher than the average, while in established middle- and upper-middle class suburbs the increases tended to be smaller.
Moreover, looking only at the property tax increase ignores the serious cuts in services that New Jersey municipalities have had to endure in order to prevent the property tax from increasing even further. Under Whitman, the state share of educational spending declined from 42 percent to 38 percent. Since the property tax is the only substantial local revenue source allowed in the state, many cities and towns have faced an impossible dilemma: either raise their property taxesand place a severe burden on low- and fixed-income residentsor make drastic budget cuts. Across the state, school systems laid off teachers and guidance counselorseven when enrollments were increasing. All sorts of educational programslike public pre-kindergarten, shown to be particularly effective in helping at-risk youngsterswere eliminated. Newspapers were filled with ads from school boards seeking strike-breakers for the work-actions expected if teachers tried to resist salary freezes. In Bloomfield, the town council decided to hold down property taxes by eliminating health-insurance coverage for school crossing guards.
New Jerseys schools are the fourth most segregated in the nation for African-American students and the second most segregated for Latinos. A small effort at state remediation consisted of an allocation of funds to help communities undertake desegregation efforts. Whitman cut these funds entirely. Towns that wanted to continue these efforts on their own either had to eliminate other valuable educational programs or else raise the property tax, which would take its biggest toll precisely from minority families.
For Whitman, budget cuts at the local level showed that municipal governments shared her zeal for cutting government spending, regardless of whether the cuts actually eliminated waste or harmed the public. The financial markets too shared Whitmans enthusiasm for budget cuts, but they were rather more realistic about the likely consequences. Moodys Investors Services warned that municipalities wouldnt be able to follow Whitmans cost-cutting prescription and that the continued financial pressure due to inadequate state aid would compel cities and towns to balance budgets by raising property taxes. The full impact of Whitmans income tax cuts on the property tax has yet to be felt.
According to the Whitman administrations estimates, the typical New Jersey family in 1996 was paying more in property tax increases than it saved in income tax cuts. The median property tax bill grew by $540, while a family at the median income of $51,878 saved only $369 on income taxes. Although Whitman insisted that the higher taxes werent her fault, the public thought otherwise. Nearly six out of ten New Jerseyans reported that their combined taxes had gone up and more than half of these attributed the increases to Whitmans income tax cut.
Deep Cuts at DEP
Beyond the gimmicks and the tax-shifting, Whitman balanced her budgets by substantial cuts in programs intended to benefit the people of New Jersey. Among the sharpest cuts took place in the Department of Environmental Protection.
Declaring oneself an enemy of the environment is a suicidal course for politicians anywhere in the United States. It is especially so in New Jersey. The Garden State is the countrys most densely populated, with the second largest chemical industry, and the largest number of superfund toxic waste sites. Moreover, when New Jersey voters have been asked whether they preferred tough environmental regulations or relaxing these regulations to create more jobs, respondents chose tough regulations by almost three to one in 1988, and even during the recession year 1993 by more than two to one.
So Whitman proclaimed her dedication to the environment while she implemented severe cuts. By December 1996, she had reduced the staff of the DEP by 15 percent, to its lowest level in 10 years. (In fact, she had tried to cut personnel by 30 percent, but backed off under intense pressure.) The staff who remained had their hours cut back from 40 a week to 35. The DEP budget when Whitman took office was $200 million dollars. For fiscal year 1997 it was down to $178 million, but only after the GOP legislature restored some of her cuts.
Fewer personnel and funds meant fewer inspections. Water pollution and land use inspections were down about a third from fiscal years 1993 to 1996; air pollution inspections declined more than 40 percent. A 1996 report noted that despite a history of contamination, no fish had been tested for PCBs since 1991. Fines on polluters dropped sharply. Assessed water pollution penalties fell from $23 million in 1993 to only $4 million in 1996. Collections plunged as well. Funding for attorneys to enforce permits and handle appeals of DEP rulings were slashed and the Office of Environmental Procescutor was abolished.
One of the most important pieces of environmental legislation in New Jersey has been the Right to Know law, guaranteeing employees and communities information on some 2,900 hazardous chemicals they worked with and lived near. The law had been pushed by environmental groups and unions and fervently opposed by business interests. In 1992, one member of the State Assembly, businessperson Robert C. Shinn Jr., at the behest of the industry lobby, had introduced a bill to get many of the chemicals removed from the list of hazardous substances. Shinns bill failed, but Whitman appointed him head of the DEP. Shinn then removed 2,000 of the 2,900 chemicals from the list, and excluded from the laws coverage supplies of a chemical weighing less than 500 poundsso that a 55-gallon drum of highly toxic substances would not have to be reported. The Right to Know budget was cut nearly 25 percent and the staff reduced by a third.
Whitman asserted that the list of chemicals was cut to remove things like Q-tips and lipstick. In fact, many of the removed substances were incredibly hazardous. Sodium persulfate and ammonium persulfate were the chemicals released in a warehouse fire in Hackensack in 1995 that drove 100 residents from their homes and injured two dozen firefighters; sodium hydrosulfate caused the Napp Technologies explosion in Lodi killing 5 workers and forcing the evacuation of 400 residents.
Open for Business
Whitman declared in her inaugural address, that New Jersey was now "open for business." Indeed it was. The press documented various cases where well-connected corporations who had contributed generously, if not illegally, to the Republicans received all sorts of financially lucrative favors. In one case, Beneficial Corp., a $15 billion conglomerate, got favorable environmental permits, reductions in pollution fines, and priority highway construction after funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to the state GOP.
Whitman set up a new Office of the Business Ombudsman to help corporations negotiate "the expanding maze of regulation" that she said made doing business in New Jersey so expensive. The day-to-day operations of the office are run by former lobbyists for the Chamber of Commerce and the New Jersey Builders Association, not subject to public scrutiny.
"The current administration and this Legislature have been more open to the concerns of business than any in recent memory," proclaimed Joseph E. Gonzalez Jr., president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. Whitman told reporters: "Im not going to apologize for supporting business, because they create jobs and the whole emphasis here is giving people futures, giving them work."
Unemployment did go down significantly during Whitmans administration, but the joblessness rate declined across the country as the nation came out of the 1990-92 recession. New Jersey still has a higher unemployment rate than the United States as a whole and the pace of job creation in the state still lags behind the national average. Whitman promised that her tax cuts would generate 450,000 jobs in New Jersey, but there have been only 182,000 new jobs since January 1994. It is doubtful whether Whitmans policies have had much of an impactin any directionon the states employment picture. More new jobs, for example, were created in 1993 (under Florio) and 1994 (Whitmans first year) than in her second year, 1995.
Most of the new jobs that have been created have been in low-paying sectors of the economy, replacing the higher paid manufacturing jobs lost during the recession. (Manufacturing continues to decline in New Jersey, though it has registered a slight increase nationwide.) For those New Jerseyans who do hold manufacturing jobs, the growth in weekly earnings has not keep pace with inflation.
One out of eight new jobs created under Whitman have been temporary jobsoften "permanent temporary" jobs, which means jobs with no pensions or benefits. Here Whitmans policies may have made a difference. Aside from hiring many temps in the state government (replacing career employees), Whitman gave a number of boosts to the temp industry: deregulating its advertising, cutting the fees temp firms pay to the state, and making it harder for former temps to collect unemployment.
Child Abuse and Neglect
Another state agency that suffered sharp cuts under Whitman has been the Division of Family and Youth Services (DYFS). DYFS has the responsibility for protecting New Jerseys children, a task that has grown in importance as the states social safety net has been steadily dismantled.
In her budget for fiscal 1997, Whitman slashed the number of job training slots for welfare recipients by 78 percent (though, characteristically, the day after announcing the cuts she posed for photo ops at several job training sites). For those who continue to receive welfare payments, the average monthly welfare grant has not been changed since 1987, so in terms of buying-power welfare recipients are considerably worse off than they have been in many years. Not surprisingly, the consequence of these policies has been an increase in cases of neglected and abused children. In one four-day period in June 1995, four children died as a result of abuse or neglect, three of whom were under the observation of DYFS. "And what did the governor do?" Julie Turner, the executive director of the New Jersey Association of Childrens Residential Facilities, asked rhetorically. "She cut the child-welfare budget."
In January 1994 when Whitman took office, DYFS had 966 district office case workers, averaging 40 cases each. Over the next two years, the number of case workers dropped while the number of cases needing action went up. In January 1997, the number of case workers had grown slightly to 974, but their average case load was 44 children each, a six year high. The national standard is a ratio of 1-to-27.
Things were actually worse than these numbers indicated. DYFS caseworkers reported caseloads of 70, 90, and even 104, claiming that the staffing formulas are manipulated by including in the equation employees who dont carry caseloads. Many of the workers try to be conscientious: "I am two years behind with some paperwork," commented one. "I am going out on weekends on my own time, on the QT, to make sure some of the children are at least alive."
The consequences of this degree of understaffing were predictable: DYFS workers ended up triaging cases, dealing with only the most severe, and letting the others fall through the cracks. Some children died while under DYFS supervision (more than two dozen during Whitmans first term, according to DYFS figures), thousands were inadequately protected from abuse or neglect, and an unknown number of cases werent even reported to DYFS as schools, child care centers, hospitals, and the police became increasingly frustrated by DYFSs lack of responsiveness. In the Fall of 1996, Whitman announced that she would authorize hiring additional case workers, bringing the official ratio to 1-to-39, a figure that if accurate was still far higher than the recommended standard. DYFS workers were nearly unanimous in criticizing the additional hires as insufficient to meet the need.
In February 1997, the Association for Children of New Jersey released a report documenting the horrendous situation and concluding that "Today whether or not a child is protected from abuse or neglect in New Jersey is driven by dollars, not by risk." DYFS employees engaged in a work action, finally forcing Whitman to sack DYFSs director. She made no commitment, however, to increase staffing or funding. Only in June, as her re-election campaign moved into full gear, did Whitman offer $18 million more to DYFS. Election year stop gaps, however, dont change the record: throughout Whitmans term there has been child abuse and neglect in New Jerseyon the part of the state government.
In July 1994, during Whitmans first year in office, the State Supreme Court ruled for the umpteenth time that the states school funding formula was unconstitutional. Some of the gap in spending between rich and poor districts had been narrowed, said the Court, but equity had still not been achieved. There had to be spending parity, ordered the Court, by the 1997-98 school year.
Just as Whitman had argued that cutting funds from the Department of Environmental Protection didnt indicate any lack of commitment to the environment, so with schools she argued that the problems of education could not be solved by throwing money at them. Instead, her Commissioner of Education would draw up a list of core curriculum requirementsthings that every student ought to learn in schooland then assign a price tag to these requirements and guarantee that every student in the state would receive that amount in school funding as a minimum.
The dollar figure was totally arbitrary and below what many wealthy districts were already spending on their children. So Whitman was hoping that the Court would accept the claim that as long as all schools had the same core curriculum on paper, they didnt need equal funding. It is true that far more than money is needed to make the failing schools in so many districts places where decent education actually takes place. But surely without money there was no hope of turning these school systems around.
Whitman well knew that the urban districts most in need of funds were precisely those where residents tended to vote Democratic and where she had sought to "keep the vote light." There was no need to provide educational equity to the children who lived here. According to the Education Law Center, per-pupil spending in Newark would have fallen $1,000 under Whitmans plan. (Whitmans attack on the states cities has had many other components as well: for example, she has cut funding for urban hospitals, forcing the closure of United Hospital in Newark and threatening additional facilities.)
A study by the Center for Analysis of Public Issues found that under the governors plan, after adjusting for inflation and changes in enrollment, aid from Trenton for regular education would be cut by 4.6 percent, causing spending reductions in most school districts. Middle income districts would suffer the largest percentage cuts, but low-income districtsalready seriously underfundedwould suffer losses as well, "an ironic result," noted the study, for a plan supposedly addressing the State Supreme Courts finding that poor districts have inadequate resources.
The study further concluded that the gap between the poorest and the wealthiest districts would actually increase under Whitmans plan. Since the plan included no guarantee that the state would provide aid to bring poor districts up to (what Whitman considered to be) the minimum after the first year, these districts might be required by law to raise their property taxes to meet the minimum.
On May 15, 1997, the Court ruled by a vote of 5-1 that Whitmans education plan was unconstitutional. Funding for regular education in poor districts, the Court ordered, had to be increasedby up to $250 millionand other programs for redressing the disadvantages of students in these districts had to be funded as well.
Some Republicans responded to the ruling by calling for limitations on the power of the Court. Whitman announced that she "couldnt disagree more" with the Courts opinion, but that she could still meet the financial obligations of the ruling without having to raise taxes or cut other programsif her bond sale were approved. In some of the poor districts there was skepticismhadnt the Court ruled in their favor many times before? And even if the funds were forthcoming, real educational equity would require as well a genuine commitment to the children of the states low-income districts, something clearly lacking in an administration and legislature that continually tried to shortchange these very children.
Higher (Priced) Education
College students too have been victims of Whitmans fiscal policies. At the state 4-year colleges and universities, tuitions and fees have gone up 22 percent during Whitmans term and were scheduled to see additional increases of between 10 and 14 percent in the coming year. The colleges point out that they have been forced to raise tuition to make up for inadequate funding from Trenton, which has been covering an increasingly smaller share of their budgets.
For the county colleges, where most of the students have below-average incomes, the situation is worse. Tuitions at these institutions have jumped 35 percent under Whitman, to a point where they are now 43 percent higher than the national average (after correcting for New Jerseys higher cost of living). In California, for example, county colleges charge $13 per credit, compared to $54-$69 in New Jersey. By statute, the state is supposed to pick up a third of the budget of the community colleges, with the rest split between the counties and the students, but the state is contributing less than a quarter, while students are now paying almost 40 percent (compared to a national average of 26 percent).
State spending for the state colleges declined in absolute terms from fiscal year 1996 to 1997. In her fiscal 1998 budget message, Whitman announced that she was going to hold funding for the colleges flat, with no change from the current year. This was exceedingly misleading. First, her claim took no account of inflation, which meant that in real terms the budgets have declined. Second, last years appropriation was reduced in mid-year by attrition cuts, and it is this diminished figure which Whitman was maintaining. Third, the state negotiated a salary increase with college employees but yet was refusing to provide the additional funds to pay for the salary increase. Essentially, colleges were being asked to pay for a salary increase that the state negotiated by making substantial cuts in other parts of their budgets. Moreover, the state refused to provide additional funds to cover the increased tuition costs of those students who were receiving financial aid.
Faculty and students responded with political actions on many campuses. At Montclair State, faculty and student speakers addressed a rally protesting tuition hikes, attended by hundreds of students, some of whom then engaged in a sit-in. At Ramapo, students and faculty called a one-day strike to demand an "affordable education." At William Paterson, where Governor Whitman was the commencement speaker, the faculty union distributed anti-Whitman armbandsworn by many faculty and studentsand chartered a plane to fly overhead with the message "Christie Dont Fail Students. Fund Higher Ed"; the Treasurer of the Student Government Association sat in front of Whitman with a sign reading "Put $$ Back in Education. Well remember in November!"
Beating an incumbent in New Jersey is extremely difficult, especially when the economy is strong. But Whitman is vulnerable. Nevertheless, the Democrats do not offer the electorate any sort of alternative. The Democratic primary featured three candidates: Rob Andrews, Michael Murphy, and Jim McGreevey.
Rob Andrews is a member of Congress who voted with the Republicans on more than half of their Contract With America, including their welfare reform bill, which, it will be recalled, was too reactionary even for Clinton. After announcing for the Democratic nomination for governor, Andrews publicly pledged that if elected he would not raise taxesa pledge not even Whitman has made. Good opportunist that he is, Andrews was happy to promise that many of Whitmans unpopular budget cuts would be restored, but since he wouldnt raise taxes to funds these programs, and since just about the only thing he said he would be willing to cut was color TV in prisons, his promises rang hollow.
Michael Murphy was a former county prosecutor and (as he often pointed out) the stepson of a popular former governor, Richard Hughes. He has never held elective office and received the endorsements of none of the Democratic Party county leaders. He was the one candidate who called for a tax increase: a 25 cent hike in the tax on cigarettes to fund public schools. This tax, however, would raise only $150 million (by his own generous calculation), and would be entirely inadequate to solve the states financial problems. (The State Supreme Court had just ordered $250 million in additional funds for low-income school districts.) Moreover, while it makes good sense from a public health point of view to use cigarette taxes to pay for anti-smoking programsas fewer people smoke, revenues will decline, but so will the need for the anti-smoking programsto fund schools this way is to make childrens education dependent on continued cigarette sales.
Jim McGreevey is a state senator and mayor of the town of Woodbridge. He is the state chair of the Democratic Leadership Council, the organization that on a national level under Clintons direction did so much to move the Democratic Party to the right. In 1988, McGreevey worked as a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co., and (according to the New Jersey Environmental Federation, an umbrella organization with 71 local environmental groups as members) took an anti-environment position on nine bills. The Federation further reported that, as a state senator, McGreevey took the pro-environment position on only half of ten key legislative roll call votes.
In 1990, McGreevey was a member of the NJ State Assembly and he voted for Florios tax hike. Then in the State Senate since 1994 he has voted for 10 of 12 of Whitmans tax cuts. He recently explained that he thought Whitman had done the right thing by cutting taxes, but had not properly prioritized her spending.
McGreevey did propose during the primary campaign that the state needs to end its reliance on the property tax to fund schools. But his plan seems guaranteed to accomplish nothing. He wants a commission to study the matter and come up with alternatives that would be voted on in a referendum. In other words, he is taking no position as to whether the local property tax should be replaced by a progressive tax or by another regressive tax (the sales tax, or a state-wide property tax, which is better than the local property tax, but still regressive).
In most respects, the three Democratic candidates and Whitman all had similar positions. All four favored the death penalty. All were pro-choice (though in 1989 McGreevey was quoted as saying that he favored mandatory counseling and parental consent). All supported civil rights for gays and lesbians, but opposed same-sex marriages. None had anything progressive to say about social welfare, though McGreevey recently attacked Whitman for opposingback in 1993 (but not since)time limits for welfare recipients.
Ultimately, the political machines backing McGreevey in Essex and other northern and central counties proved more effective than the Andrews machines in southern Jersey and Hudson county. McGreevey won the June 3 primary with 39 percent of the vote, to 37 percent for Andrews, and 21 percent for Murphy. Whitman promptly attacked McGreevey as part of the Florio "tax-and-spend" school because of his 1990 vote for Florios tax hike (obviously ignoring his opportunistic votes for her tax cuts). McGreevey can be expected to move further to the right during the election campaign. And the Republican Legislature, with Whitmans approval, is engaging in a flurry of last minute election-year spendingrestoring some funds to DYFS and the state colleges, hoping voters will forget their record over the last three and a half years.
Polls show that there is a popular base in New Jersey for an alternative politics, for a politics based on equity and support for poor and working people. A January 1997 survey showed that three-quarters of South Jersey residents would support an increase in state taxes for public schools if property taxes were cut; another poll last fall found that more than half the voters were willing to pay higher taxes to improve schools in poorer communities; last summer a majority of respondents expressed their belief that Trenton should bear a greater share of public school costs.
Supporters of third party efforts in the United States always hear the objection that the lesser of two evils must be supported or else we risk losing abortion rights, affirmative action, or crucial social programs. Whatever the merits of this objection generallyand it is much overusedit clearly has no merit in the current New Jersey gubernatorial contest.
If ever there was a time for a third party effort in New Jersey, this is it. Unfortunately, Garden State progressives are not well situated to take advantage of the opportunity. The New Jersey Greens, the Socialist Party, and the Socialist Workers Party are all fielding candidates.
The Greens have the advantage of a reputation for ecological concern that resonates well in environmentally conscious New Jersey. Their gubernatorial candidate, Madelyn Hoffman, is a longtime environmental activist who ran in 1996 as Ralph Naders local vice-presidential candidate, winning some 37,000 votes. The campaign is hindered by splits among New Jersey Greens reflecting the existence of two national organizations claiming to be the Greens. Hoffman has a sharp critique of Whitmans environmental record and has made some useful connections to anti-tuition-increase struggles and to state workers threatened with layoffs. But the Greens are rather vague on their solutions for non-environmental problems, and their campaign has not yet been able to articulate a broader vision that can link up the many progressive communities in the state.
The Socialist Workers Party has a much more multi-issue focus, but its sectarian baggage makes it difficult for it to do serious outreach, either to the Left or to New Jerseyans more generally. Its candidate, Bob Miller, is an autoworker particularly involved in defending immigrant rights. He is running on a platform calling for, among other things, jobs for all through a shortened work week and massive public works, opposition to police brutality, and the cancellation of Third World debt. The Socialist Party also has a multi-issue orientation, and has set for itself the formidable task of convincing people that democratic socialism provides real solutions to everyday problems. Its gubernatorial candidate, Greg Pason, is the partys national secretary with a strong record of activism around ballot access, anti-racist work, and single payer health care.
Democrats and Republicans are bickering about the high price of auto insurance in New Jersey, but Pason calls for the total abolition of for-profit auto insurance, replacing it with a state-run system. He calls for mass transit and free and universal post-secondary education, all to be paid for by a progressive income tax, while sales and property taxes are cut. These are the issues that need to be addressed and the solutions that need to be offered, but public awareness of the campaign, even among progressives, is still rather limited.
Looking at the weaknesses of the Left, it is hard to avoid a sense of despair. But then another look at the Democrats and the Republicans makes abundantly clear that if we really value people over profits, if we understand how corporate money corrupts politics, if we appreciate that business as usual usually benefits business, then our only hope is building an alternative to the two-party system.