Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Christie Reverses Stand on Tax Increases After Storm
By KATE ZERNIKE
Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who has pushed aggressively for cutting and capping taxes in New Jersey during his three years in office, said Tuesday that people who lived in towns destroyed by Hurricane Sandy were likely to pay higher taxes to help rebuild.
“It’s got to be paid for,” he said. “There’s no magic money tree.”
In a 40-minute news conference in Trenton, Mr. Christie said he expected the federal government to do as much as it had done for victims of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast to help rebuild New Jersey. And he said that municipalities would be allowed to raise property taxes more than the 2 percent limit that he signed into law in 2010 to cover costs brought on by the storm.
“No one’s ever happy with higher taxes, but the fact is, what annoys people more than anything else is waste,” he said. “As long as they know that the money’s being spent in a way that’s helping to bring their town back to life, I think people will understand it’s got to be done.”
It was a striking endorsement of the role of higher taxes and the federal government in helping the recovery, particularly coming from a governor who has often been held up as a leader in the movement to rein in both.
But Mr. Christie, wearing a suit and tie rather than the fleece jacket seen in his TV appearances the last two weeks, disagreed that the storm had brought on a change of heart. Unlike Mitt Romney, he said, he had never questioned the need for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Emergency response is always something that I’ve thought was an appropriate governmental function,” he said.
“There are plenty of instances that can happen in our country where a state by itself is not equipped to deal with the results of a natural disaster,” he continued. “And so the country needs to band together to help its other states to be able to get over something that has been disproportionately foisted on one or two or three states of the 50. But no, it hasn’t turned me from a limited-government guy to a big-government guy.”
Mr. Christie showed little sign of backing off the 10 percent tax cut he has been pushing all year. To pay for that cut, Mr. Christie presumed that revenues would grow by more than 7 percent. With the state’s unemployment rate hovering well above the national average, tax revenues have lagged far behind those predictions. The devastation of Hurricane Sandy — with scores of homes and businesses destroyed — has made that growth even more unlikely.
The governor said the state treasury would release figures at the end of this week projecting the storm’s damage to the state economy. He has argued that as people buy things to rebuild, sales and income tax revenues may actually increase.
But he also said that he has always known “that if something catastrophic happens, you have to adjust your position.”
“I know how to do math,” he said. “I’m a realist.”