New Jersey Jokes


R. Shalom

 

Nineteen ninety-seven is an
off-year for mainstream electoral politics in the United
States—there are no House or Senate races and only two
states are holding gubernatorial contests—so
considerable national attention will be focused on the New
Jersey governor’s 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 party’s vice-presidential—or
even presidential—nominee 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
Whitman’s 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 didn’t 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 hadn’t even bothered to vote on
her town’s school budget (because her children went to
private school, she explained), causing the budget to fail by
a single vote—and yet she wanted to be governor so she
could set education policy for all the state’s 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
Florio’s 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.

Floundering Florio

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 Jersey’s method of funding
education—heavily reliant on the local property
tax—was 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 needed—if
anything—more school spending per capita rather than
less.

Florio responded to the Court
ruling by raising the state’s 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,
Florio’s 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 Florio’s 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 Court’s ruling.

Second, under Florio’s
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
tax—it 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 tenant’s rent goes to pay the property tax.) So
while it is socially desirable to replace property taxes with
income taxes—thereby shifting the tax burden to the
wealthy—replacing property taxes with higher sales taxes
preserves existing regressivity.

New Jersey Citizen Action, the
state’s 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
Florio’s 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 Florio’s
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
Republican’s 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 we’re 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 cut—corrections 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.

Christine I

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
Whitman’s 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 Trenton’s revenues during Whitman’s 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 $40—reduce it, that is, until the bond payments
become due, and then there’ll be a heavy price to pay,
though not during Whitman’s 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 Senate’s Budget and
Appropriations Committee called the plan "wacko"
and "immoral."

Whitman’s 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 state’s 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 state’s 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 Florio’s 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 Florio’s sales tax increase, so
Trenton had less money to distribute to municipalities. The
last three years of the Florio administration—that is,
since his tax hike—saw 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
communities—usually older, blue-collar towns or rapidly
growing towns with rising school populations—the
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 taxes—and place a severe
burden on low- and fixed-income residents—or make
drastic budget cuts. Across the state, school systems laid
off teachers and guidance counselors—even when
enrollments were increasing. All sorts of educational
programs—like public pre-kindergarten, shown to be
particularly effective in helping at-risk
youngsters—were 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 Jersey’s 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 Whitman’s enthusiasm for
budget cuts, but they were rather more realistic about the
likely consequences. Moody’s Investors Services warned
that municipalities wouldn’t be able to follow
Whitman’s 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 Whitman’s income tax
cuts on the property tax has yet to be felt.

According to the Whitman
administration’s 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 weren’t 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 Whitman’s
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 country’s 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.
Shinn’s 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 law’s coverage supplies
of a chemical weighing less than 500 pounds—so 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: "I’m 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 Whitman’s 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 Whitman’s policies have had much of an
impact—in any direction—on the state’s
employment picture. More new jobs, for example, were created
in 1993 (under Florio) and 1994 (Whitman’s 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 jobs—often
"permanent temporary" jobs, which means jobs with
no pensions or benefits. Here Whitman’s 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 Jersey’s children, a task that has
grown in importance as the state’s 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 Children’s 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
don’t 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
Whitman’s first term, according to DYFS figures),
thousands were inadequately protected from abuse or neglect,
and an unknown number of cases weren’t even reported to
DYFS as schools, child care centers, hospitals, and the
police became increasingly frustrated by DYFS’s 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 DYFS’s 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, don’t change the record: throughout
Whitman’s term there has been child abuse and neglect in
New Jersey—on the part of the state government.

School Daze

In July 1994, during
Whitman’s first year in office, the State Supreme Court
ruled for the umpteenth time that the state’s 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
didn’t 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 requirements—things that every
student ought to learn in school—and 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 didn’t 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 Whitman’s plan.
(Whitman’s attack on the state’s 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
governor’s 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
districts—already seriously underfunded—would
suffer losses as well, "an ironic result," noted
the study, for a plan supposedly addressing the State Supreme
Court’s 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 Whitman’s 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 Whitman’s education plan was
unconstitutional. Funding for regular education in poor
districts, the Court ordered, had to be increased—by up
to $250 million—and 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 "couldn’t
disagree more" with the Court’s opinion, but that
she could still meet the financial obligations of the ruling
without having to raise taxes or cut other programs—if
her bond sale were approved. In some of the poor districts
there was skepticism—hadn’t 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 state’s
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 Whitman’s fiscal policies. At the state
4-year colleges and universities, tuitions and fees have gone
up 22 percent during Whitman’s 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 Jersey’s 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 year’s 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 armbands—worn by many faculty and
students—and chartered a plane to fly overhead with the
message "Christie Don’t 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. We’ll remember in November!"

Tweedledee

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 taxes—a pledge not even Whitman has
made. Good opportunist that he is, Andrews was happy to
promise that many of Whitman’s unpopular budget cuts
would be restored, but since he wouldn’t 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 state’s
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 programs—as fewer people smoke, revenues
will decline, but so will the need for the anti-smoking
programs—to fund schools this way is to make
children’s 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 Clinton’s 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 Florio’s tax
hike. Then in the State Senate since 1994 he has voted for 10
of 12 of Whitman’s 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 opposing—back 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
Florio’s 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 Whitman’s approval, is
engaging in a flurry of last minute election-year
spending—restoring some funds to DYFS and the state
colleges, hoping voters will forget their record over the
last three and a half years.

Alternatives

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
generally—and it is much overused—it 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 Nader’s 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
Whitman’s 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
party’s 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.