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Monday, February 22, 2010

In New Jersey, "The Beast" finally looks undernourished 
I had been ruminating on my last post, about the disconnect between message (We have tax no money for the things you want, and your taxes are too high already) and reality (we're really not taxing you that  much, after all) and how that ties in with the long-term Republican strategy of "starving the beast." (For those who don't remember, "starving the beast" was Republican anti-tax strategist Grover Norquist's term for reducing taxes, and hence the size of government, until it could be "drowned in a bathtub.")

That tax cutting has been the politician's predominant vote-buying ploy of choice over the last 35 years (leading up to California's tax-decimating Proposition 13 in 1978, and its aftermath) is undeniable, dropping average federal tax rates by about 20% since 1980. But - the "beast" held on, at least in New Jersey. At the local level, taxing authorities (municipal governments and school boards, mostly) have been filling the holes left by their federal and state counterparts by furiously raising property taxes - but they've been unable to keep up (overall tax burdens down by about 3% in the last dozen years), especially since legislators in Trenton placed economic-reality-ignoring annual caps on tax rates and/or tax levies.

 After Republican (and ├╝ber tax-cutter) Governor Christie Whitman left office in 2001, a succession of Democratic governors managed as best they could to hold the line and preserve as much in the way of government programs and services as possible, but it's been a slow downhill grind. Now that Republican Chris Christie has taken office, he's aggressively taken on "the beast" again, cutting New Jersey's funding for municipalities, public schools, and public transportation by double-digit percentages. "The beast" has managed to survive, if not thrive, up to now but, with Mr Christie's ascension as Lord High Executioner (and he has, to be sure, "a little list"), the ol' boy is looking pretty gaunt. The 35 year mission of the Republican Party - to reduce government to a shell incapable of providing any "service" that does not require either incorporation papers or firearms (or, preferably, both) to carry out - is nearly complete.

I'm back to this subject, in part, because Paul Krugman's column in today's New York Times is about this very subject - not about New Jersey or the size of our tax burden but about Republicans' efforts to kill off government and how, despite their rhetoric (and their very real tax cuts) they're unwilling to propose any real cuts in services for fear of angering voters. This appears to be true at the federal level, and even in the legislative branch of New Jersey government (the state Senate and Assembly). However, I have to credit Governor Christie, however odious, for following through. Where his predecessors at Drumthwacket -  McGreeveyCodey, and Corzine - held on as best they could to the programs people most want, Christie is busy dismantling any vestige of citizen-centered, citizen-responsive government and replacing it with government that will not do anything (and soon will not be able to do anything) for citizens.  In Chris Christie Republican-world, government is a cost-center business, providing services only to other businesses, and it has no citizens, only customers (and then only if they can afford to pay).

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