For the governor of New Jersey, even a walk on the beach is political.
During a boardwalk stroll in Belmar on Aug. 10, Gov. Chris Christie responded to criticism of his environmental policies from Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex), put to him by NJTV’s Michael Aron.
"It is election time and Mr. McKeon needs to have something to say in a state where since I introduced my budget -- first budget -- in March of 2010, we've created 50,000 new private-sector jobs for the people of this state," Christie said. "Where we already have seen that we are beyond the air quality goals that were set by the Corzine administration, Michael. So you should go back and ask Assemblyman McKeon that."
PolitiFact New Jersey checked the private-sector jobs statistic. Christie’s number is mostly right. But did the introduction of Christie’s first budget play into that increase? As one state policy expert said, "the burden of proving [that] is rather difficult."
We’ll start with the numbers.
Christie introduced his first budget in the middle of March, but we’ll look at the whole month since the numbers aren’t broken down further.
At the time Christie made his statement, the latest numbers publicly available were preliminary statistics from June 2011. According to that seasonally-adjusted data, the state had added 42,100 private-sector jobs since March 2010.
However, on Aug. 18, the state labor department released revised numbers for June and preliminary numbers for July. According to the updated figures, from March 2010 to June 2011, the state added 48,000 private-sector jobs. If you include July 2011, the state has added 51,900 private-sector jobs since March 2010.
With any of the data sets, the governor’s point is largely on the mark.
But how much can the governor take credit for that increase in private-sector jobs?
When we asked the governor’s office to explain how the introduction of Christie’s first budget sparked private-sector job growth, a spokesman, Kevin Roberts, told us in an email, "I think you are reading the Governor’s statement incorrectly, as he is clearly using that as a marker in time."
But Roberts then said it’s a "worthwhile marker" because it "represented a break from the old way of doing things in Trenton." And since the introduction of the budget, Christie has "built a record of restoring fiscal responsibility and sanity, providing businesses and families much-needed certainty that we will not raise taxes, and providing targeted tax cuts to improve the state’s business climate and create jobs."
An economist from a conservative think tank and a senior vice president at the New Jersey Business and Industry Association mostly agreed with Roberts’ assessment of the impact of the governor’s first budget.
Aparna Mathur, an economist with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said it’s impossible to argue with complete confidence that the introduction of the governor’s budget had a direct effect on private-sector jobs, but it’s not unreasonable.
She said the governor’s efforts to "curb spending growth, cut business taxes and provide certainty about economic policies going forward are certainly things that are likely to provide some degree of confidence to firms about the reliability of investing in the state and are likely to spur job creation."
But a handful of experts from other policy thinks tanks said the process of private-sector job creation is complicated and even if changes in government policy had a direct impact, it would take longer than a year and half to see any effects.
"It isn’t clear a specific governor can take a lot of credit for the new jobs," said Kim Rueben, who directs the state and local program of the nonpartisan Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center. "I think governors and state governments can change the climate but in general there has been little research showing specific programs (or economic development credits) have actually led to job creation."
Bob Ward, deputy director of the New York-based Rockefeller Institute of Government, said, "for better or worse, most of what has happened in New Jersey’s economy in the last 18 months reflects conditions that were already in place. Any state policy changes since then are unlikely to have had a dramatic impact on job totals."
Christie tied the introduction of his first budget to increased private-sector employment in the state, saying that since March of last year, "we've created 50,000 new private-sector jobs."
His statistic is mostly correct. But his underlying point that the introduction of his budget spurred that job growth, according to most of the experts we spoke with, is a stretch.
We couldn’t fully blame Christie’s budget if the state lost private-sector jobs, and we can’t fully credit Christie’s budget when the state gains private-sector jobs.
We rate the governor’s claim Half True.
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