The Real Deal

Steve Forbes

For the first time in too long, New Jersey may well elect a governor who is a strong leader, who will turn around the economically laggard, overtaxed, debt-ridden, corruption-laden Garden State. Chris Christie, the probably Republican candidate, has what it takes to perform the kind of turnaround miracle that Rudy Guiliani accomplished during his eight years as mayor of New York City.

New Jersey's woes are all self-inflicted. Once upon a time the state was a regional and national leader, whose economic growth was always better than that of others. How that has now changed. The state suffers from just about the highest property taxes in the country. The incumbent governor, Jon Corzine, wants to hike the highest state income tax rate from 8.97% to 10.25%. Debt has ballooned, from about $3.5 billion 15 years ago to more than $33 billion today. New Jersey's health care laws make health insurance probhibitively expensive for individuals and small businesses. Despite a bloated public sector, Governor Corzine has effected no layoffs and no meaninful attempts to truly rein in spending. With the overall burden of taxation about the worst in the country, it's no wonder that people and businesses are fleeing the state.

Chris Christie is a former U.S. attorney who won regional renown for his relentless and successful prosecutions of political wrongdoers in both parties. He won conviction after conviction in a state that national pundit George F. Will once ranked with Louisiana as the most corrupt in the country.

I had the opportunity recently to spend a little time with Christie. He comes across as a leader who has the smarts and determination to get big things done. Like Guiliani, Christie won't let conventional political wisdom deter him from his course, and he has the political savvy and persistence to make the needed breakthroughs.

Christie vows to cut New Jersey's income taxes across the board. "Our tax rates are oppressive and are driving residents out of state. No more." In his first term he also plans to take the ax to the corporate business tax rate "to create a better business climate." New Jersey is one of the few states that double-tax S corporations. This is especially hurtful to job-creating small businesses.  Christie will eliminate this double taxation. He also has his eye on getting rid of the so-called investment tax on New Jersey-based businesses. This pernicious levy factors in the level of investment a company has in New Jersey to help determine its liability. In other words, the more a business invests, the more tax it will owe. "That's a great seeling point when you want to attract new businesses," Christie wryly observes.

He will also reform New Jersey's obtuse, cost-creating health insurance regulations. He would permit insurance companies to offer "mandate-free" policies, for instance. New Jersey is a leader among states that make policies horrifically expensive by ladening them with all sorts of required coverage instead of, say, a plain but comprehensive catastrophic illness plan. Small businesses would be permitted to purchase health insurance policies from out-of-state insurance comapnies. "More competition and more consumer choice will lower costs."

Christ will also ferociously attack reams of regulations that have polluted New Jersey's busi-ness climate. And he is determined to turn around the substandard education that kids in New Jersey's inner cities receive.

Like Rudy Guiliani, Chris Christie knows that some of these reforms won't be achieved overnight, that you have to keep pressing and pressing to bring about true change and that sometimes change comes incrementally instead of all at once. The key is to not let up.

Can the man do it? A New Jersey governor's power are the strongest in the nation, and Christie is a man who will know how to use them to their fullest. A Christie victory in November will be a tonic to the national economy: New Jersey would once again be an economic growth engine, with its success a model for states, such as neighboring New York, that are currently indulging in tax-raising binges.

Steve Forbes is President/CEO of Forbes and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes magazine
Copyright 2009. All Rights Reserved.


Print page