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April 03, 2017

Fact-check finds 'less rosy' picture in N.J. than Christie's #Betterthanwefoundit claim

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's time in office is winding down. Just nine months remain in his second term and a gubernatorial race is set to gain steam in the coming months.

With dismal approval and job performance ratings, Christie took to Twitter last week to champion the state's recently passed eight-year transportation and infrastructure bill. He capped his tweet with the hashtag #Betterthanwefoundit.

The social media campaign didn't exactly catch fire. Most who took notice have been either critical or sarcastic, particularly after Monday's NJ Transit derailment at Penn Station

Slogans aside, Bloomberg Politics dug into the numbers to see whether New Jersey actually is better than Christie found it when he took office in 2010.

The facts he gives back up his assertions. Private-sector jobs are up, while state government is smaller by more than 11,000 employees. Property-tax growth has slowed. The state has committed to spending billions of dollars on transportation and college improvements.

Yet other data provide a more complete view of the state of Christie’s New Jersey. And when those points are included, the picture is less rosy.

The analysis points to Christie's claim that his budget for fiscal year 2018 reduces "discretionary spending" by $2 billion compared to the 2008 budget. What he fails to factor in are the state's pension, benefits and debt service, which together make the 2018 budget the most expensive in state history. 

Christie committed $1.86 billion for the public pension system in his most recent budget — the largest payment in New Jersey history — but it was only 40 percent of what actuaries recommended to keep pace with an obligation that reached $49.1 billion last year, up from $43.8 billion the year prior.

While Christie has pinned the albatross of the state's public pension system on uncooperative Democrats in the legislature, last week's downgraded credit rating marked the 11th time Wall Street has soured on the state's finances during Christie's time in office. It's a record number for any governor in U.S. history.

Bloomberg also points out that while the infrastructure bill will go a long way, the state's mass-transit operator remains in poor shape financially, in part because it lost a state subsidy and must spend more on day-to-day operations. NJ Transit had the highest number of accidents among the top 10 U.S. commuter railroads last year. 

With primary elections coming in June, voters still appear uncertain about who they want to lead the major parties. A February poll found Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno led among Republicans with 18 percent of voters and former Goldman Sachs executive Phil Murphy led Democrats with 17 percent of voters.