Saturday, May 21, 2011

Opportunity At Home For Chris Christie

The loss of Osama bin Laden may be a gain for the women of New Jersey.

Last summer, Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature which would have restored $7.5 million for family planning centers. Christie's budget completely eliminated state funding for family planning which, according to Planned Parenthood, the previous year had provided

-reproductive and preventive health care to 126,903 women and 9461 men
-breast examinations to 70,506 women with 4039 referrals for further evaluation ·
-pap tests to 65,252 women; ·
-HIV tests to 27,386 women and men; ·
-57,027 tests for Gonorrhea,
-7727 tests for Syphilis and 66,035 tests for Chlamydia; and ·
-services to 97,129 women and men without health insurance

An effort to override the GOP governor's veto failed on a party-line vote. New Jersey had been set to receive a 9 to 1 federal match in spending if the bill had been approved, Christie thereby having thrown away.... oh, you do the math. A lot of women's health would have been provided with very little expense to the New Jersey taxpayer.

The money may re-emerge, however:

On New Jersey 101.5's "Ask the Governor" show, Weinberg (D-Bergen), one of the bill's sponsors, informed Christie about Senate President Stephen Sweeney's decision to call another vote Monday on her bill to restore $7.45 million for the clinics.

"I hope this time around you will think about women's access to health care," Weinberg said.

Christie responded curtly, "Excellent, thank you very much, I will consider it when it comes."

The civility disappeared when the call ended.

"I don't think it's been in the best interest of the state for Sen. Weinberg to be around the state mischaracterizing women's access to health care," Christie said, saying women can get family planning services from other clinics and hospitals.

"This has become a political issue for Sen. Weinberg," he said. "She likes to throw around the political issues as much as anybody. I’ll decide what I think is the most responsible way to spend money."

Citing a tight budget, Christie eliminated the family planning clinic grants last year and later vetoed a bill (A3273) that would have restored them.

Apparently, though, New Jersey does have the money- and plenty of it. Recently, the state's treasurer revealed that $511 million more in revenue was expected to come in through June 2012 than esd expected in February, due in part to the surge in the stock market. Even before that, however, Governor Christie was creative enough to find perhaps $1 billion- that would be $1,000,000,000- to give corporate interests for an entertainment complex:

It was revealed last week that the state, lenders and Triple Five had reached an agreement for the developer to restart and expand the immense, unfinished Xanadu project. But no one provided any details until Tuesday, when state officials and executives of Triple Five held a news conference here and, for the first time, gave journalists in hard hats a tour of the almost-completed main building.

“It’s finally going to move forward now,” Mr. Christie said of the project, which has already burned through $1.9 billion and two developers, each of whom ran out of money.

“It’s going to move forward and be finished.”

The company unveiled artists’ renderings showing a simpler, more muted look both inside and out, including a largely pale blue skin to replace the exterior jumble of bright colors and shapes.

Triple Five revealed on Tuesday that it planned to spend $1.5 billion or more. It said it would expand the project to about 3 million square feet, from 2.2 million, by adding a water park and an amusement park, both under a climate-controlled, glass-and-steel dome alongside the New Jersey Turnpike. The firm has not yet acquired the land needed for that expansion.

New features will also be added to the main structure, including an ice-skating rink and possibly a rooftop outdoor movie theater, Triple Five said.

Officials with the state and Triple Five said the complex would draw more than 50 million people a year, even more than the 42 million who go to the company’s Mall of America, a similar but larger shopping center outside of Minneapolis.

The planned 2013 opening could have political implications for Mr. Christie, who expects to run for re-election in November of that year. The governor, a Republican, had vowed to resuscitate the project, which was devised and derailed under his Democratic predecessors.

Officials hope the mall can take advantage of the 2014 Super Bowl, to be played at New Meadowlands Stadium, a short distance away.

The state has already spent, by some accounts, as much as $1 billion on financing, tax breaks and highway improvements to support the development. The state will provide about $200 million in financing to Triple Five, and Mr. Christie has said that in return for such aid, the state must share in the benefits if the project succeeds.

The governor declined to say on Tuesday what financial arrangements would be made, but said, “we will get our investment back, and then some.”

That was disputed by Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, who said the developer should be paying the state, which owns the land, rather than the other way around. He raised concerns about traffic and other environmental consequences of the project, adding, “New Jersey needs another mall like we need another Superfund site.”

In the wake of the elimination of Osama bin Laden, support for President Obama is way up and all possible opponents- including Chris Christie- come up short when matched against him. Although Christie may be eying a presidential run in 2016, the urgency that he establish and burnish a radically conservative profile for Republican primary voters or even corporate contributors has diminished. Not having to pander to a right-wing base gives him the opportunity to move toward the center and court independent voters while gearing up for re-election in a state in which his party is considerably more moderate than it is nationally. It won't turn Chris Christie into a liberal or good governor, but it gives him license to act as if he understands that fighting breast cancer and sexually transmitted diseases is good politics, as well as good policy.

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