As The Worm Turns: Jersey Edition
No one can say that New Jersey’s Lt. Gov, Kim Guadagno is not a woman of her word.
According to Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, she met with Guadagno five days after Hoboken’s planning board rejected the recommendations of a study that would have advanced a redevelopment project and alleges she was was told by Guadagno:
It [the development project] is very important to the governor. The word is that you are against it, and you need to move forward or we are not going to be able to help you. I know it’s not right — these things should not be connected — but they are and if you tell anyone, I will deny it.
And deny it she did in a command performance, this morning:
[Meryl Streep, you have nothing to worry about].
Mayor Zimmer, for her part, spent quality time yesterday with the US Attorney investigating Christie’s distribution of Hurricane Sandy relief funds only to wake up this morning to find she’d already been tried, sentenced and executed in Joe and Mika Morning Court. But perhaps that had something to do with Team Christie saying nasty things about partisan bias at MSNBC . . .?
Many have made much of the fact that Mayor Zimmer always appeared to be complimentary and upbeat about her governor, although it’s not much of a stretch to understand a mayor whose town’s very survival now depends on the reconstruction funds being doled out by the governor’s office putting on a happy face.
It’s also hard for me to believe that Dawn Zimmer would stick her neck out and bring all holy political hell down on her head just to pile on and “get her face on the news.” Mayor Zimmer may not be able to prove her particular accusations easily because as Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, pointed out a while back:
Given the governor’s personal popularity, the only thing that will get the public to reconsider their view of him is a smoking gun. And since this administration is airtight, there is no smoke.
On the other hand there is plenty of solid documentation out there on the mismanagement of New Jersey’s Hurricane Sandy relief funds that don’t depend on “he said/she said” accounts. As well as enough evidence that the Christie administration is running New Jersey’s fiscal health into the ground and probably shouldn’t be relocated to DC any time soon.
This stuff is not as sexy and not the stuff that made for TV movies are spun from but it’s damning, it’s documented and should be aired. It also proves that Patrick Murray was right on the money about the Christie administration being airtight because I live right next door to Jersey, Jersey news is local news for me and I pay it a good bit of attention, but the stuff I’m about to tell you came as a pretty big surprise to me.
There isn’t a blog space big enough to go into all of this in the detail it deserves but I’ll provide the links and send you on your merry way . . .
Remember how the be-hoodyed Gov. Christie, with a tear in his eye and a quaver in his voice assured New Jersey victims of the storm that he was setting a new bar for disaster relief and that his people would not have to wait for help. Nevertheless, wait they did and, by April, 2013, when they got tired of waiting they put enough pressure on their state representatives to unanimously pass a bill requiring oversight and quarterly reviews of how the funds were being disbursed as well as more public information.
The Governor’s response: VETO!
While I thank the sponsors for their efforts, and for sharing in my commitment to the transparent and efficient administration of Sandy recovery funding, this bill would produce unnecessary redundancies and waste government resources.
Guess that would be the redundancy of resources that are already not providing any information?
Throughout the summer of 2013, outside organizations and news outlets were pressing Christie’s Office for data and FOIA requests. One of them was a non-profit, the Fair Share Housing Center which finally sued the Christie administration when their information requests were ignored.
Suddenly data started to flow and in November, 2013, the Fair Share Housing Center reported out their findings on their website:
Data obtained from the Christie Administration reveals that only $283 million out of $1.16 billion dollars has been distributed to homeowners and renters for disaster relief. New Jersey received the $1.16 billion dollars last spring specifically for housing programs under the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Relief (CDBG-DR) but to date, only 24 percent of those funds have made their way to Sandy victims.
The Christie Administration has pointed to the United States Department for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the delay, but the Action Plan and related regulations were approved by HUD months ago. Elected officials and housing advocates say they do not understand why the money is not getting to the people who need it.
Some of those findings were disturbing enough to warrant an editorial by The Editorial Board of The New York Times in December, 2013.
Civil rights groups in New Jersey filed a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development in April charging that the state plan for distributing Hurricane Sandy recovery aid discriminated against blacks and Hispanics who lost their homes in the storm. In September, the Fair Share Housing Center, an advocacy group, sued the state, alleging that it was withholding public information that would show whether low-income and minority citizens were being discriminated against.
The center now says it has evidence showing that black and Hispanic citizens who seek assistance are being turned away in disproportionate numbers. Its data show that 38.1 percent of African-Americans and 20.4 percent of Hispanics who applied for resettlement grants were rejected, against only 14.5 percent of whites. The group says that it found a similar outcome among people who applied for reconstruction or rehabilitation grants: 35.1 percent of African-Americans and 18.1 percent of Latinos were rejected, compared with 13.6 percent of whites.
Gov. Chris Christie has dismissed the center as a “hack group” that deserves no response. His Department of Community Affairs, which oversees the housing recovery effort, says the charge of discrimination is “outrageously false.”
The numbers by themselves do not prove discrimination. But the Christie administration has a poor record when it comes to supporting housing for the poor. Mr. Christie has tried to undermine the state’s affordable housing laws since he took office and would have dismantled the independent agency that promotes affordable housing had the New Jersey Supreme Court not barred him from doing so earlier this year.
Given that record, federal housing officials need to take a close look to see whether New Jersey is operating in a nondiscriminatory fashion.
It’s not a leap to understand why the Christie administration might be casting longing looks at all of that money in light of some of the criticism recently released of how Christie has been handling the states fiscal health. In October, 2013 The New York Times ran an article reporting numerous red flags for New Jersey’s economic outlook:
. . . a recurring pattern has emerged in Mr. Christie’s approach to budgeting that concerns ratings agencies: The governor bases his spending plans on robust revenue growth, despite evidence of a weak economy. And because he has pledged not to raise taxes, when those revenues fail to materialize, he is left scrambling to drain money from other accounts to balance the state budget, relying on the gimmicks he once derided Mr. Corzine for using.
During the past two years, he took $175 million from the money paid to states to settle complaints of mortgage fraud, intended to help homeowners prevent foreclosure. (Nationwide, New Jersey has the second-highest percentage of homes in foreclosure.) Last year, he planned to take $166 million that towns were supposed to spend to build affordable housing. (The towns have sued to stop him, so the governor may have to fill an even bigger hole.)
The report on fiscal stress last spring, by the Federal Funds Information for States, a nonpartisan group that relies on states’ own reporting of their finances, found that unlike most states that had pulled themselves out of the recession years, New Jersey was struggling more this year, given its lower-than-expected tax collections and little surplus to cushion it.
That was not the only warning sounded. In 2011, ratings agencies downgraded the state’s bond rating — it is still among the worst in the nation — out of concern about the low surplus. In recent years, they have also issued alerts that the governor’s inflated revenue predictions were threatening another downgrade.
This spring, the Christie administration acknowledged in a prospectus for potential investors that even its signature pension overhaul would present a “significant burden on all aspects of the state’s finances.”
Today’s issue of Investor’s Business Daily reports that New Jersey is now dead last among the states in fiscal solvency—that’s behind Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama—according to the latest study issued by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
The study ranks states’ financial health:
. . . based on a variety of measures, such as cash on hand to pay its current bills, budget surpluses or deficits, unfunded liabilities and ability to provide adequate public services.
New Jersey came in last on two of those measures — budget and long-term solvency — and finished in the bottom 15 in two others.
Granted, Christie wasn’t responsible for the entire mess, he had only been in office 2 years before the data was collected, nevertheless it doesn’t look like he’s helped the situation much, either:
New Jersey’s revenues aren’t keeping up with expenditures, and that the state uses fiscal practices that “only appear to balance its annual budgets.”
Just as The New York Times article cited above pointed out:
The governor bases his spending plans on robust revenue growth, despite evidence of a weak economy. And because he has pledged not to raise taxes, when those revenues fail to materialize, he is left scrambling to drain money from other accounts to balance the state budget, relying on the gimmicks he once derided Mr. Corzine for using.
Those Relief funds must look mighty tempting . . .
Bottom line, whether you believe Christie or the growing legions of his critics, his record, even the parts he lets you see, don’t hold up very well in daylight.
Beyond that, is he presidential? Fuhgeddaboudit!
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