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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Christie’s Fact-Free Keynote

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie largely avoided factual claims in a Republican convention keynote address that was heavy on generalities, opinion and platitudes. The pugnacious former prosecutor exaggerated a bit, though, when he bragged about his accomplishments as governor, and he repeated the common but false claim that the president’s health care law interferes with the doctor-patient relationship.

  • Christie said he delivered “three balanced budgets with lower taxes.” Actually, he cut the state Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income residents and the popular property-tax rebate program for renters and homeowners. It’s a matter of interpretation whether those are tax hikes or spending reductions. A proposed 10 percent income tax cut hasn’t been enacted.
  • He said he took on public-sector unions to reform a pension system “headed to bankruptcy” and “saved retirees their pension.” That’s accurate as far as it goes. But the state is not fully funding the revamped system, and the pension liabilities gap will begin to grow again.
  • Regarding teachers, Christie said he ended “the guarantee of a job for life regardless of performance.” That’s correct. Christie worked with a Democratic Legislature to make significant changes to the tenure system — even providing a path to fire tenured teachers with negative evaluations.

On state taxes, Christie said “we have three balanced budgets with lower taxes.” First of all, New Jersey, like many states, requires a balanced budget. But did he balance the budget “with lower taxes”? He did sign into law some business tax incentives, but broad-based income and sales taxes have not changed. He has proposed lowering income taxes by 10 percent across the board, but that measure has yet to pass.

In fact, Christie has cut state payments that his critics say amount to tax increases. He cut more than $800 million from the state’s popular property-tax rebate program in his fiscal year 2011 budget. The Star-Ledger reported that Christie “eliminated rebates for nearly 103,700 renters and cut rebates for everybody else by 75 percent.” He increased funding for the program in fiscal 2012, but has not fully restored the cuts.

Christie also cut the state Earned Income Tax Credit from 25 percent of the federal benefit to 20 percent in fiscal 2011, and later vetoed a bill to restore it. The left-leaning New Jersey Policy Perspective estimates that the $100 million cut over two years has reduced tax credits by $200 per family.

Christie has made some sweeping changes in state pensions and teacher tenure rules in a state with strong labor unions.

The governor said he overhauled the state’s pension system and “saved retirees their pension.” As we have reported before, Christie last year signed a law that required public employees to pay more into the pension system, suspended cost of living increases for retirees, and reduced the state’s growing unfunded pension liabilities.

But four months later, the Star-Ledger wrote — in a story headlined “Christie’s overhaul may not save N.J. pension system” — that the state was underfunding the pension system and, as a result, the unfunded liabilities gap would begin to widen again.

The paper said, “The ‘unfunded liability’ — the difference between how much the pension system has and what has been promised to current and future retirees — dropped from $53.9 billion to $35.4 billion after the law was signed, the state said in bond documents. But because the state won’t be making full pension payments, the gap will swell again to $58 billion by 2019, according to the state’s estimates.”

Fred Beaver, a former state pension director, told the Star-Ledger the governor’s changes were “admirable” but ultimately “paper reform” unless the state makes its payments.

On the other hand, the Star-Ledger called the governor’s overhaul of the state’s tenure laws “dramatic.”

Star-Ledger, June 25, 2012: The bill would make a series of dramatic changes to a law first enacted in 1909. The most important would institute a new system of yearly evaluations for teachers and principals based partly on growth in student test scores — a move that sets New Jersey on the same path as Indiana, New York, Washington, D.C., and others….

But any teacher, regardless of seniority, could be fired after two years of negative evaluations. Disputes would be handled through arbitration instead of administrative law judges, which proponents say would drive down costs for school districts that can get enmeshed in costly battles.

Christie also repeated a false claim about the health care law interfering with doctor-patient relationships.

Christie: Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to end the debacle of putting the world’s greatest health care system in the hands of federal bureaucrats and putting those bureaucrats between an American citizen and her doctor.

As we just said in our first item on the convention, the Affordable Care Act doesn’t create a government-run system, like that of Britain or Canada, nor does it regulate the work of doctors. Republicans often call the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which would recommend ways to slow the growth of Medicare spending, “bureaucrats” that would ration care. But the IPAB, made up of health care professionals, economists and others, wouldn’t have the power to do that, according to the law.

— Eugene Kiely and Lori Robertson