Former governor: NJ’s budget deficit ‘beyond comprehension’
After being elected New Jersey Governor 25 years ago, Jim Florio was faced with a $ 3 billion budget deficit, so he pushed through a $2.8 billion tax increase. Many Jersey residents were outraged, and Florio’s popularity dropped like a rock.
With New Jersey facing a much bigger fiscal shortfall now, NJ 101.5 asked the former governor what he thinks we should do, and whether we can solve the problem by raising taxes again.
Florio said the current fiscal situation in New Jersey is so bad, it’s almost unimaginable.
“If you put a gun to my head, I couldn’t tell you how to get out of what we’re in,” he said, “We have an $80 billion shortfall in the pension system, a $40 billion shortfall for health care, the Transportation Trust Fund is out of money. I don’t know how you cope with these things, the numbers are beyond comprehension.”
He said when previous governors have faced difficult fiscal problems they've handled them "by reductions or increases in taxes," but the current situation is more challenging.
"These numbers are not manageable. I can’t contemplate how we’re going to talk about dealing with $80 billion. The budget for the whole state is $33 billion, so you’ve got to talk about numbers that are beyond comprehension," Florio said.
When asked how a governor deal with being unpopular and having very low approval numbers after making a difficult decision like raising taxes, Florio said it depends.
“There are always answers and options and none of the options are perfect, but a real leader says I’ll pick this option I think is a good one and try to persuade people," he said. “Particularly if the leader doesn’t want to offer any options, that becomes a difficult thing, so I feel sorry for the next governor whoever it is.”
When prodded on the issue of being unpopular, Florio said, “if you want to be universally loved, don’t go into politics.”
“Political leaders, knowing that all the alternatives are difficult, don’t want to take any positions at all, so they’ll just sweep things under the rug and leave it for the next guy," Florio said. "But I think now the things under the rug are so monumental that you’re not going to be able to sweep more stuff under the rug.”