Chris Christie is the hottest interview in town. Even Ann Currie on the Today Show was fawning over him last week. Matt Bai wrote a glowing profile on him in Sunday's NYT magazine.
There is no question that Jersey government is a mess. We have a HUGE budget crisis looming, sky high taxes, and a rabbit warren of local governments, which are run by semi-competent politicians.
These local governments have a great deal of power. They make major decisions and negotiate their own contracts with the cops and the teachers. Since everyone is so busy these days, these jobs go by default to local businessmen who hand out benefits to their friends. Secret bosses control the elections behind the scenes. Nobody has the time to attend council meetings, so these decisions are made in empty chambers. Because New Jersey is sandwiched between the Philadelphia and the New York City media circles, there are few journalists in Trenton, nevermind in these local government chambers.
Since Christie doesn't have much control over these local governments, he has handled this crisis by simply cutting off the spigot of money from Trenton that local governments need to balance their budgets. He's also putting a cap on how much towns can raise taxes. He'sforcing towns to make the tough decisions without really telling them what to do.
The trouble is that local politicians are no match for the unions. They are also locked into air tight contracts. So, these towns are dealing with their budget crisis by cutting foreign language instruction and busing and special education.
Loathing for Christie has been palpable during these town budget meetings, but he also has lots of supporters — nonunion workers, people with no kids in the public schools, people who simply can't afford $12,000 in property taxes. He gives good sound bites and has had many YouTube ready moments.
There is no question that New Jersey government is in dire need of reform. But Christie's plan, if you can really call it a plan, doesn't do anything to change the big structural problems. What we're going to end up with is the same inefficient, incompetent, corrupt system, but with less services for children and the elderly.