A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Blame It on the Governor

Republican governors group misleadingly faults Jon Corzine for New Jersey's unemployment and business woes.


Summary

Two new Republican ads targeting New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine contain a few misleading claims.

  • One ad suggests that Corzine is responsible for New Jersey’s business climate being "among the worst in the nation." But the survey cited as the source of the claim shows that the perception of New Jersey’s business climate has improved under Corzine.
  • The same ad also suggests that it’s Corzine’s fault that "unemployment is up 73 percent" in the state. But the state’s unemployment rate has actually risen by a smaller percentage than the nation’s over the same recession-plagued time period.
  • The other ad says Corzine "told us that he wouldn’t raise taxes," then went and did so. But during his campaign, Corzine refused to take a no-tax pledge and left himself an out, saying, "We’re not raising taxes unless we’re absolutely pushed up against the wall."

Analysis

Recently, Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine released two ads attacking former U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie, the GOP nominee in the gubernatorial contest; we looked at them here. Now the Republican Governors Association has hit back with two ads of its own that criticize the Democratic governor for not doing enough to bring jobs to New Jersey and for breaking promises on taxes.

Jobs Governor?

In the first ad, “New Jersey Jobs,” an announcer says: “Wall Street banker Jon Corzine told us he’d bring jobs to New Jersey, but unemployment is up 73 percent and the business climate ranks among the worst in the nation.” 

Republican Governors Association Ad:
"New Jersey Jobs"

[TET ]

Announcer: Wall Street banker Jon Corzine told us he’d bring jobs to New Jersey, but unemployment is up 73% and the business climate ranks among the worst in the nation. Corzine: Watch what he does, not what he says.[/TET]

Those claims give a misleading picture of Corzine’s tenure.

Between January 2006 (when Corzine took office as governor) and the end of March 2009, New Jersey’s unemployment rate increased from 4.8 percent to 8.3 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That represents a 73 percent increase.

Of course, it just so happens that the U.S. has been veering into or stuck in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression during that time. The unemployment rate for the United States as a whole, over the same time period, has increased by nearly 81 percent. New Jersey’s rate has tracked that of the nation quite closely; in March 2009, its unemployment rate of 8.3 percent was actually two-tenths of a percentage point below the national unemployment.

The ad’s other claim, that New Jersey’s “business climate ranks among the worst in the nation,” is also technically true, at least according to a less-than-scientific 2008 survey conducted by Development Counselors International. But New Jersey has been listed among the worst in this survey since at least 1996, a decade before Corzine took office. The state didn’t come by this poor assessment as a result of Corzine’s actions. In fact, the survey shows that perceptions of New Jersey have actually improved slightly under this governor, who’s a former CEO of Goldman Sachs.

The survey’s results were based on what 281 business executives and advisers said they “perceived” to be the three states with the “least favorable business climate.” In 2008, New Jersey didn’t make it into that bottom three. Fourteen percent of the businesspeople surveyed would have put it in that category, but instead, New Jersey came in fourth, behind California, New York and Michigan. The survey notes: “The list of ‘least favorable business climates’ has remained remarkably consistent over the years.” But back in 1996, 20 percent of the respondents ranked New Jersey among the three worst states, and in 2005, still before Corzine took office, 21 percent thought so.

New Jersey may be no corporate haven, but one could also look at its latest numbers this way: If 14 percent of respondents think it’s one of the three worst states in the nation for business, that means 86 percent don’t.

Tax Man Cometh?

The RGA’s second ad goes after Corzine on taxes.

Republican Governors Association Ad:
"New Jersey Taxes"

[TET ]

Announcer: Jon Corzine told us that he wouldn’t raise taxes, but in his very first budget he pushed for a 16 percent sales tax hike. Now he wants to eliminate middle class property tax rebates. Corzine: Watch what he does, not what he says.[/TET]

This time, the announcer says: “Jon Corzine told us that he wouldn’t raise taxes, but in his very first budget he pushed for a 16 percent sales tax hike. Now he wants to eliminate middle class property tax rebates.”

But the ad implies that Corzine broke a promise he never really made. Newark’s Star-Ledger reported that during the 2005 campaign, Corzine would "not completely rule out tax increases":

Star-Ledger, June 2, 2005: Corzine acknowledged he will not completely rule out tax increases but said he sees no need to raise taxes. "I’m going to do everything I can to make that a last resort," he said. "We’re not raising taxes unless we’re absolutely pushed up against the wall. It’s the last alternative."

And just before election day that year, the Philadelphia Inquirer quoted Corzine saying: "I’m not taking a no-tax pledge."

It is true, though, that Corzine negotiated a budget that increased the state’s sales tax. The "16% tax hike" featured prominently in the ad actually represents the state’s sales tax jumping from a 6 percent rate to 7 percent in 2006 (which is a nearly 17 percent increase). Corzine said the revenue raised from the increase, in addition to spending cuts, would help New Jersey erase a $4.5 billion budget shortfall at the time.

And it’s also true that Corzine, though he promised during his campaign to provide property tax relief to residents, has proposed eliminating property tax rebates for all New Jersey residents, except for senior citizens and the disabled, to help overcome a $2 billion budget gap. Corzine told reporters that the state can no longer afford to give out the rebates, saying: “The fact is, we don’t have the resources.”

– by D’Angelo Gore

Correction, June 19: We originally attributed Corzine’s "no-tax pledge" quote to the Philadelphia Tribune. It was the Inquirer.

Sources

Bureau of Labor Statistics. Local Area Unemployment Statistics: New Jersey, accessed 17 Jun 2009.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey: United States, accessed 17 Jun 2009.

Development Counselors International. "A View from Corporate America: Winning Strategies in Economic Development Marketing," 28 Jul 2008.

Donohue, Joe. "Corzine pledges to boost rebates." The Star-Ledger 2 Jun 2005.

Burton, Cynthia. "Corzine platform: Study taxes, revamp agencies," Philadelphia Inquirer 2 Nov 2005.

Jones, Richard G. "Deal on Sales Tax Ends Shutdown in New Jersey." New York Times 7 Jul 2006.

Associated Press. "Corzine defends his plan to eliminate property-tax rebates." 20 May 2009.