Thursday, January 01, 2015

Horrid Governor

It didn't come from the Tulsa World, Jackson, or Nephi, Utah's Times-News, or even Jackson, Mississippi's Clarion-Ledger. It was Jill Colvin of the Associated Press who recently wrote a puff piece on New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

Colvin summarized the main stories,or at least the ones everyone has known about for awhile. Those would be the governor's confrontation with "heckler" Jim Keady over Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts; the imprisonment of health care heroes (including nurse Kaci Hickox) returning from abroad after treating Ebola victims (or as Colvin generously puts it, "putting a mandatory quarantine on health workers returning from West Africa);" Bridgegate; and Christie's responses to questions about immigration reform and running for President.

Sadly, she didn't notice

As chairman of the Republican Governors Association, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has helped Charlie Baker with millions of dollars worth of ads supporting his Massachusetts gubernatorial campaign. But that's not the only way he may be boosting the GOP candidate in the final weeks of a close election: Christie officials are blocking the release of the findings of New Jersey's pay-to-play investigation into Baker.

The documents being withheld pertain to an investigation of Baker's $10,000 contribution to the New Jersey Republican State Committee. The contributions came just months before Christie officials gave Baker's company, General Catalyst, a contract to manage New Jersey pension money. New Jersey's pay-to-play rules prohibit contributions to state parties from "any investment management professional associated" with a firm managing state pension money. 

When the campaign donations and subsequent pension contract came to light in May, Democrats criticized Baker, who was then launching his 2014 campaign for governor of Massachusetts. In response, New Jersey launched a formal investigation into Baker's contributions. The Newark Star-Ledger reported at the time that Christie officials "said the review would take several weeks."

Five months later, with Baker now neck-and-neck in the polls with Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley and backed by more than $5 million from the Christie-led RGA, Christie officials have denied an open records request for the findings of the investigation. 

Baker won his race. But borderline corruption is consistent with a propensity for dishonesty which would threaten Christie's national reputation as a straight-shooter, one which no longer holds sway in New Jersey.  The on-line side of the Star-Ledger of Newark, NJ reports

The board overseeing the Public Employees Retirement System — the largest employee pension fund — voted in June to sue Christie.

"We are saying that money is due to the fund," Tom Bruno, chairman of that fund said today. "It's not something we relish doing, but frankly it's got to be done."

"We have a fiduciary responsibility, and that is to protect the fund, as well as to collect the monies that are due to the fund," Bruno said.'

The dispute stems from a 2011 deal Christie brokered with Democratic leadership in the Legislature to put the troubled system back on solid footing.

Christie agreed to increase payments into the system in return for a reform package that raised the retirement age from 62 to 65, eliminated cost-of-living increases for retirees, and required workers to contribute more toward their pensions and health benefits.

But instead of pumping in extra money, Christie grabbed $2.4 billion from pension payments to balance budgets over two years after revenue collections fell far short of projections.

The administration of the rarely honest, rarely effective governor in 2010, decided to direct more funds into risky Wall Street investment firms (graph below from New Jersey State Investment Council).  Unfortunately

Four years later, New Jersey has secured only half the promised results. The state has sent more pension money to big-name Wall Street firms like Blackstone, Third Point, Omega Advisors, Elliott Associates and Grady's old firm, The Carlyle Group. Additionally, the amount of fees the state pays financial managers has more than tripled since Christie assumed office. New Jersey is now one of America’s largest investors in hedge funds.

The “maximized returns” have yet to materialize.

Between fiscal year 2011 and 2014, the state’s pension trailed the median returns for similarly sized public pension systems throughout the country, according to data from the financial analysis firm, Wilshire Associates. That below-median performance has cost New Jersey taxpayers billions in unrealized gains and has left the pension system on shaky ground. Meanwhile, New Jersey is now paying a quarter-billion dollars in additional annual fees to Wall Street firms -- many of whose employees have financially supported Republican groups backing Christie’s reelection campaign.

For Christie, it all comes back to Christie- and to failure. New Jersey's recovery from the great recession by most measures- e.g., credit downgrades, poverty rate, rate of home ownership, home foreclosures, unemployment, incomes, investment in technology- has fallen behind the vast majority of states, with the number of  credit downgrades since he took office a state record.

In the case of Chris Christie, it's hard to distinguish between incompetence and corruption. Heckler Jim Keady has noted that approximately 20% of the federal funds sent to Trenton for homeowners devastated by Sandy had, as of a few months ago, been distributed.  The AP's Colvin refers to him as a "heckler," traditionally characterized as one who "interrupt(s) (a public speaker) with derisive or aggressive comments or abuse." As the video below indicates,  Keady, who stood silently with the horrid sign "Get Sandy Families Back in Their Homes. Finish the Job" and was told "sit down and shut up" by the Governor

grew up in Belmar, now lives in neighboring Spring Lake, and after the storm, he said, he took a month off of work and volunteered "every day" in Belmar. "They trusted me with one of their borrowed dump trucks and I was running clean up crews all over town," Keady said. "I wanna know how many crawl spaces the governor was in, cleaning up. But he got his photo-op in Belmar."

It would be easy to blow this off as yet another example of intimidation of news organizations by yet another Republican. But Chris Christie, christened a "moderate" by the mainstream media, is a special case who gets special treatment.  It is the only reason to take seriously any bid by this man for President.

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