Christie blasts Spadea: Gas tax deal good for New Jersey, ‘bad for your narrative’
Gov. Chris Christie, in a heated exchange with New Jersey 101.5's Bill Spadea Thursday morning, accused the New Jersey 101.5 host of fear-mongering over the proposed 23-cent-per-gallon gas tax to drive ratings.
In a forceful retort of Spadea's months-long opposition to the gas tax — which the morning show host has continued throughout this week after the state Assembly passed a Christie-endorsed bill to raise the gas tax in exchange for eventually dropping New Jersey's sales tax from 7 cents to 6 — Christie called Spadea's analysis of the budget impact "idiotic."
The governor argued Spadea was misleading New Jersey residents about the impact of the tradeoff, and the effect it would have on New Jersey's roads and bridges.
"You try to make people believe they'll feel a $1.1 billion increase in the gas tax but they won't feel the $1.1 billion," he said.
Christie estimated the gas tax would cost the average New Jersey resident $100 a year. The dip in the sales tax, he said, would save a typical New Jerseyan $400. The gas tax, if approved by the state Senate Thursday and signed by Christie, would go into effect Friday. The sales tax would decrease by half a cent six months from now, and by the full cent in 18 months.
A New Jersey 101.5 report found the tradeoff to be roughly a wash — though a lot depends on an individual resident's driving and spending habits.
"You're raising taxes tomorrow to lower taxes that may or may not impact the average family in New Jersey," Spadea said. He argued New Jersey's next governor could work with a Democratic legislature to quash the gas tax dip well before it has any meaningful impact.
"They should make sure they elect a Republican governor to replace me, and if they do, they won't be able to raise the sales tax when I leave," Christie said — but added he could "only deal with what's presented to me."
'You would have failed fourth-grade math'
Spadea told the governor the deal would not only hurt taxpayers, but leave New Jersey's budget in trouble — saying a $1.5 billion loss to the general fund from the sales tax would be a major hit, on top of a $1.5 billion pension payment. He said bringing in an estimated $1.3 billion in gas tax revenue to offset spending some senators have estimated at $1.6 or $2 billion didn't make sense.
"I think in a fourth-grade math book you'd find a problem like this and there's no way to solve it," Spadea said.
But paying for transportation costs always involves borrowing, Christie said, because road projects are years-long capital improvements.
"That's why your fourth-grade math doesn't work," Christie said.
Throughout the week, Spadea has taken calls from New Jersey 101.5 audience members who say the 23-cent gas tax would have a devastating effect on their commuting budgets — but say a 1-cent dip in the sales tax won't change their spending or hit their pocketbooks in meaningful ways.
Spadea said he's gotten calls from at least a dozen people who drive 100 miles or more daily, and who'd be hit hard — noting his own commute was once that large.
"If you think the comparison is 1 cent to 23 cents, then you really would have failed fourth-grade math," the governor said — telling Spadea a moment later, "You sound like a fourth-grader."
Christie also questioned Spadea's figures — noting no $1.5 billion pension bill has been guaranteed, and asking "where are you getting $2 billion?" in regard to estimated transportation spending.
But, Spadea said, New Jersey will have to make good on its pension obligations.
"Who's kidding who?" he asked the governor.
'It's not about ratings for me'
Throughout the exchange, Christie accused Spadea of putting ratings first and honest math second.
Regarding borrowing on roads — and therefore spending more than the gas tax takes in, he told Spadea: "Don't plead ignorance on this one and be ignorant on it."
Regarding the possibility the Senate will shoot down the gas tax increase: "When (the people of New Jersey) realize they've given away a $450 tax cut for a $100 tax increase, they can come and thank you for being an advocate for that. That'll be great."
At that point, Christie said, "you will have moved on to another topic to drive ratings, and the people driving their cars will have the effect of it."
"Governor, it's not any more about ratings for me than it is about a nice tax-cutting headline for you," Spadea said in reply.
Christie said killing the gas tax deal is "a choice, but I will tell you it's a choice of someone who does not understand this process." And he said that it's a choice that would both cost taxpayers what he called the first real tax break in 21 years, and strip the state of funds it needs to repair roads and bridges.
"But it's a great talking point, Bill," Christie said.
'Your math is wrong. My math is right.'
Spadea and Christie battled on several more points.
Spadea said the gas tax affects all of New Jersey. The governor countered that "there are large portions of our state where people only use mass transit, only use mass transit."
Throughout the week and in Thursday's exchange, Spadea has argued that even if voters in November dedicate the gas tax to the state's about-to-be-broke Transportation Trust Fund, not all of the money will go to roads and bridges. Some would go to New Jersey Transit — and, Spadea said, to an Atlantic City light rail project.
Christie said no such AC rail project is on the table, and that New Jersey residents benefit from NJ Transit improvements. However, a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Tim Eustace would have the state Department of Transportation and New Jersey Transit construct a rail station at Atlantic City International Airport.
Christie told Spadea that in opposing the gas tax deal, he's also opposing a tax break for seniors — 81 percent would pay no income tax under the deal, he said, and 91 percent would see their income tax reduced.
"Your math is wrong. My math is right. ... You're a performer. I'm a guy who actually has to make decisions," Christie said.
"I'm not wrong that the cost of living goes up every single month," Spadea said. "It goes up every single year, and this is going to drive it even further."
Watch the interview in its entirety between the governor and Bill Spadea in the clip below.
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