When Chris Christie starts his run for the presidency a year from now — and despite Bridgegate, it’s now pretty clear that he’s running — he will no doubt list among his accomplishments that he’s a job creator.
That’s not quite right. He’s a job stealer. Maybe a job buyer. But job creator? Nah. “Creator” implies making something where nothing existed before. And that’s not Christie’s job strategy for New Jersey. Instead, what Christie does is take what was created elsewhere and claim it for the Garden State.
Christie’s strategy — and the reason for it — became abundantly clear in Thursday’s New York Times report about his administration’s economic development policies. It’s startling stuff: His administration has given away $4 billion in economic subsidies since 2010 to lure or keep companies in Jersey — up dramatically from the $1.2 billion given away by the state during the 10 years previous to that.
The Times adds: “The average cost of the subsidy package has soared to $75.9 million from $10.1 million and the amount of tax forgiveness per promised job has jumped to $47,916, from $16,430, according to New Jersey Policy Perspective.”
So what’s wrong with this strategy? After all, it’s keeping a lot of jobs from crossing the Hudson and going to New York. (It’s a strategy that also lured the 76ers to move their headquarters and practice facilities to Camden, at a cost of $82 billion over 10 years.) Competition is the name of the game, right?
Maybe. But it’s not the kind of competition that the Tea Party base of the Republican Party supposedly wants to promote these days. They’ve been vocal proponents of the kind of “crony capitalism” they say is practiced by President Obama, where government picks the economy’s winners and losers — and too often tries to make winners of losers. Exhibit A in this critique: Solyndra, the failed solar company that had federal backing. It’s difficult to believe the base would look at Christie’s record and find it a paragon of the free-marketeering they so love.
At its ugliest, Christie’s story amounts to this: He’s trying to buy his way into the presidency using New Jersey tax dollars.
That’s the political problem. There’s also a practical problem, which is this: Luring jobs from New York and Pennsylvania may be a good strategy if you’re New Jersey’s governor. But it gives you little foundation for trying to jump-start a national-level economy. Unless President Christie decides to junk NAFTA, he won’t be stealing many businesses from Canada or Mexico — certainly not at a rate that’ll make much economic significance.
Which means that Christie will be running for president on an economic record that is A) hollow and B) inapplicable to the problems of setting national economic policy. It’s also expensive and possibly harmful to other state programs. Other than that, it’s great.
The best thing Christie could do is foster a landscape in New Jersey that encouraged entrepreneurship and made established businesses feel at home while still requiring them to be good corporate citizens. That’s hard work, though. Paying businesses to come is much easier. It’s just not so great for the rest of us.
Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.