If Christie Runs, N.J. Issues Go National

By Stile, Charles | The Record (Bergen County, NJ), January 4, 2015 | Go to article overview

If Christie Runs, N.J. Issues Go National


Stile, Charles, The Record (Bergen County, NJ)


New Jersey's political new year will be shaped by The Big Question: Will the state's 55th governor attempt to become the 45th president of the United States?

After courting hog farmers in northwestern Iowa and charming Nancy Reagan in Southern California, will Republican Chris Christie finally jump into the 2016 contest and put his accomplishments, his fundraising, his family, even his waistline under the microscope of a national campaign? Christie says he will make his intentions known early this year.

Most observers expect Christie to take the plunge. And he has also told allies and supporters that he has no intention of resigning if he does enter the race.

That would make him a governor/candidate torn between two time- consuming duties -- building a national campaign and confronting a challenging and politically perilous home-state agenda for 2015.

Of course, there is the chance that Christie won't run -- the federal investigation into the George Washington Bridge lane closings could produce indictments of former Christie aides and a damning portrait of the inner workings of his administration. And then there is the strong possibility that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will enter the race and snap up the Wall Street donors, the Texas oil barons and other deep-pocketed donors Christie so aggressively courted, ruining any hope of becoming the preferred choice of the GOP establishment.

Still, it's hard to see Christie bowing out now, not after all the time and energy crafting a national profile, almost from the moment he took office, and not after building his own national network by barnstorming the country last year as the Republican Governors Association chairman. Besides, Christie allies say they are not scared off by Bush's connections -- Christie has his own billionaire backer, Ken Langone, co-founder of The Home Depot, who is eager to raise and spend whatever it takes. And they insist that most Republican voters don't care that much about the GWB lane scandal, and that they're eager to back a candidate like Christie with moxie and cross-party charisma.

So here's a look at some of the long-neglected issues for 2015 in New Jersey and how they could be affected by Christie's pursuit of the nomination for president.

* Raising money for road and bridge projects: Insiders are expecting that Christie and lawmakers will unveil a long sought, bipartisan deal to replenish the state's Transportation Trust Fund, the state's main vehicle for financing road, bridge and rail repairs, by mid-February. The fund was a model of sound, fiscally prudent planning when it was created 30 years ago but has since become an embarrassing symbol of political neglect -- nearly every penny raised by the state's 14.5-cents-per-gallon tax on gasoline sales now goes to pay off the fund's $14 billion tower of debt, leaving no money to pay for the state's crumbling infrastructure. Christie shocked the political establishment last year when he hired veteran Democratic operative James P. Fox as his transportation commissioner. Fox quickly proceeded to warn the public that a hike in New Jersey's gas tax -- the second lowest in the nation -- is inevitable.

But it's difficult to envision Christie endorsing a gas-tax increase given his adamant refusal to raise major taxes during his five years in office and given the controversial contortions he took to avoid raising the gas tax -- tapping billions from the canceled Hudson River train tunnel project in 2011, for instance. A sudden change of heart would make him an easy target for the anti-tax activists in Republican primaries, like the influential "Club for Growth," which has the resources to lambaste Christie through attack ads.

And New Jersey motorists, enjoying the low prices at the pump, are largely opposed to a gas tax hike, according to a recent Rutgers University/Eagleton Institute poll. Christie might find cover if the hike is tied to a separate agreement to dramatically revise or even phase out New Jersey's tax on estates and inheritances -- a long- cherished goal of Republicans that has now attracted Democrats. …

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