by Emily Landgraf
While the gubernatorial candidates do not agree on much, all three concur that the state’s economy is in need of a makeover.
Faced with $38 billion of debt, high unemployment rates and other serious monetary problems, New Jersey is a state where the economy is a top priority. Incumbent Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, Republican Chris Christie and independent Chris Daggett each addressed this important issue.
“We need to bring common sense back to New Jersey state government,” Christie said. “Common sense tells you, you can’t spend more than you bring in.”
The three candidates took the stage at the Bart Luedeke Center (BLC) Theater on separate occasions as part of the Governing New Jersey series sponsored by the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics. The candidates discussed the economy, health care, the environment and education.
Christie devoted much of his speech to the economy. He detailed what he saw as Corzine’s failures and pointed out how a Christie administration would be different should he be elected Nov. 3. He believes that overspending is a big issue.
According to Christie, New Jersey has three options to fix the economy.
“[We can either] bring more money in, borrow money or stop spending so much,” he said.
Corzine had a determined attitude when discussing his stance on the economic crisis.
“We’re not always going to be in a recession,” he said.
Corzine supports President Obama’s economic program and believes that New Jersey can turn its economy around. He hopes to create jobs through investing in infrastructure, green technology and public schools.
Daggett also devoted a significant amount of his speech to the economy.
“Relatively speaking, it’s just as bad as the situation in California,” he said.
Daggett pointed out the fact that, besides the $38 billion debt, New Jersey is facing a projected $8 billion to $10 billion budget deficit, twice as much as most people expected.
Daggett then discussed how many politicians would simply cut the size of the state government. He said that even if the deficit were only $4 billion, New Jersey would not be able to fill the gap. According to Daggett, New Jersey has around 70,000 state workers who make roughly $50,000 a year. To close up a $4 billion gap, New Jersey would have to fire 80,000 workers.
“Ten thousand workers would have to be fired twice,” Daggett said.
Another major issue that each candidate tackled was health care. Corzine was the only candidate who fully supported Obama’s health care plan. He believes that a public option for those who cannot afford it is the best way to go.
Christie believes there are other ways to make health care more affordable for the people of New Jersey. He would allow small businesses to purchase policies from out-of-state insurance companies, which is not currently allowed. Christie believes that more competition and consumer choice will lower health care costs. He would also allow mandate-free policies, which might better fit the needs of some consumers who do not need some of the benefits provided by health insurance companies.
Daggett does not believe that public health care is “necessarily the answer.” He would rather collaborate with insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies to try to achieve lower costs.
“Our ultimate fate will be tied to whatever comes out of Congress,” Daggett said.
On the subject of the environment, all three candidates were willing to do whatever they could to protect it. Corzine stressed the importance of protecting open space in New Jersey. He believes that investing in green technology would not only help the environment, but also create many new jobs for the state’s citizens.
Christie believes that the Department of Environmental Protection needs to get back to its true purpose, and not get caught up in bureaucracy. He believes the department needs to make it easier for businesses to protect the environment and maximize New Jersey’s resources.
Daggett spoke the most about the importance of protecting the environment. As a former member of the Environmental Protection Agency, he has a lot of experience in shaping policies to protect the environment. According to Daggett, open space in New Jersey needs to be protected.
Education was also discussed at each speech. Corzine believes in investing in preschool education and believes that it is the foundation for a good education.
“I’m not saying there will always be an equal outcome, but every child deserves an equal start,” Corzine said.
According to Corzine, the New Jersey Stars program has been expanded. It allows high school students who graduate with high academic achievement to attend community college for free. Corzine said his administration made a fundamental policy decision to invest in tuition aid. This year, his administration put a 3 percent cap on tuition increase at state colleges and universities.
“We’re doing the best we can with scarce resources,” Corzine said.
According to Corzine, New Jersey has invested in higher education. However, both Christie and Daggett disagree.
Corzine’s two opponents both believe the public school system is failing too many children. According to both Daggett and Christie, the current administration has simply been throwing money at the problem, but that is not enough. They believe that stronger measures need to be taken in order to ensure that New Jersey’s education is improved on all levels.
“We never thought hard enough and we weren’t tough enough to monitor the process,” Daggett said. “We shouldn’t accept failing schools.”
The Governing New Jersey series provided each candidate with a chance to lay out his plans in an open forum and to take questions from the audience.
“Elections really are choices about the future, not just simple exercises,” Corzine said.
Additional reporting by Allie Ward