Christie Disliked More Than Corzine Amid Budget Gap, Bridge Jam

  • Challenges ahead include traffic-scandal trial, Atlantic City
  • Governor’s approval rating drops to record low of 29 percent

Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, stands on stage during the pledge of allegiance at the start of a debate in Las Vega on Dec. 15, 2015.

Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

If former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine’s standing with voters was bad, Chris Christie’s is worse than bad.

Corzine, who was ousted by Christie in 2009 as residents rejected the Democrat’s handling of the state economy amid a national recession, left office with the support of 31 percent of voters polled by Quinnipiac University. A survey released Wednesday by the Hamden, Connecticut-based institute had Christie with an all-time low of 29 percent -- the worst rating in six years for any governor in the nine states polled by Quinnipiac.

The first Republican elected governor of Democratic-leaning New Jersey in 12 years, Christie lost favor after a traffic scandal and a year spent largely running for president. Since ending that bid, he has focused on state issues, as well as getting Donald Trump elected. With 20 months left in his term, he faces a wide variety of troubles:

Budget Gap

New Jersey may have a $1.1 billion revenue shortfall over two years after income-tax collections missed projections, the legislature’s budget analyst said Wednesday. That includes $486.8 million for fiscal 2016, which ends in about six weeks.

Ford Scudder, Christie’s acting treasurer, estimated a slightly lower shortfall, $844 million. He told lawmakers the administration plans to close the gap by using unspent money, increasing taxes on lottery winners and reining back plans to convert business tax grants to credits.

"National downward trends in capital gains and other extraordinary sources of volatile tax revenues are impacting New Jersey," Scudder told the Assembly budget panel.

In previous years, Christie has relied on overly optimistic revenue projections and reneged on promised pension contributions to balance budgets, leading to nine credit-rating downgrades, a record for a New Jersey governor.

Atlantic City

Christie’s five-year plan to turn around Atlantic City failed. Now the city, its tax base having dropped more than two-thirds since 2010, is approaching bankruptcy. The legislature’s warring Democrats can’t agree on a fix with each other, let alone the Republican governor who just six years ago signed landmark bipartisan public-pension changes. A municipal-bond default would imperil the credit ratings of other New Jersey cities that rely on state aid. Even a state takeover, which Christie favors, probably would lead to debt restructuring, and losses for creditors. 

For Christie, bleaker still: a campaign stop on May 9 by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who said the city is a microcosm of “the ugliness and greed we’re seeing all over this country.” Then he turned on Trump, the ex-casino operator and presumptive Republican candidate who named Christie as his transition chairman. “You don’t think he is a brilliant, successful businessman who can continue the tide of prosperity that he has brought here to Atlantic City?” he asked the crowd.

Traffic Scandal

“This is old news, everyone. I’m done with that.” Christie’s comments to reporters on May 11 haven’t stopped speculation that his is one of the names linked to the George Washington Bridge scandal -- or even that he’s the anonymous plaintiff trying to prevent disclosure about the case. The governor has said he knew nothing about the plot to jam traffic as political payback, and it’s “highly doubtful” that he appears in a court document sought by media. Someone, though -- an individual identified only as John Doe -- last week filed a lawsuit to keep secret a list of people who prosecutors say were part of the operation and weren’t indicted.

As Doe battles it out with media seeking the list, the governor has another looming headache: the September trial of Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni, two former aides who have pleaded not guilty to conspiracy charges. Testimony could provide rare, and potentially unflattering, glimpses of the administration’s inner workings.

Christie’s approval rating before the scandal reached 74 percent. Now, Republicans are the only party, gender, age or racial group to give him a positive score, according to Quinnipiac. And even two-thirds of New Jersey Republicans say Trump shouldn’t pick Christie as his running mate.

Brian Murphy, a Christie spokesman, didn’t immediately return an e-mail seeking comment on the poll results.

“The governor enjoys a challenge -- so this may end up being his favorite part of this administration," said Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, a Republican from Little Silver and a Christie ally. "This governor, and the state, have not been blessed with an easy year for the past seven or eight years."

Already, Democrats are eyeing Christie’s job. The first official announcement came this week from Phil Murphy, who headed the Frankfurt office of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and served as U.S. ambassador to Germany.

Maurice Carroll, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll, said voters shouldn’t expect Christie’s low approval to make him change course. He has no current plans to run for office again, and he holds one of the most powerful governor’s seats in the country.

“He appoints every judge, he appoints every prosecutor, he appoints every senior staff member and he’s got a line-item veto,” Carroll said. “He can do whatever he wants.”

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