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Barbara Buono is a one-woman, out-of-control spending machine, to hear the latest TV ad from Republican Chris Christie.
The ad released online May 22 links Buono, a Democratic state senator from Metuchen, with Corzine, Christie’s Democratic predecessor. Buono is Christie’s likely challenger in the November gubernatorial contest.
As pictures of Corzine and Buono flash on screen during the ad, a narrator intones, "Jon Corzine, elected governor. Teams up with Barbara Buono. $1.2 billion sales tax increase? Passed. Most spending in state history? Passed. After Buono named budget chair, taxes and fees increase 23 times in just two years. State debt? Up $13.4 billion. Unemployment? Doubled."
This ad is like others from the governor’s re-election campaign that try linking Buono with Corzine: strong on bluster, weak on context. While the ad doesn’t come right out and blame Buono for these increases, the implication is there.
Let’s go back to the start of Corzine’s tenure.
The Democrat became governor in 2005 and served one term before being defeated by Christie.
We’re not sure how Corzine "teamed up" with Buono since she was already on her third term as a state senator when he was first elected to state government. Further, the chairmanship of legislative committees is determined by the president in the Senate and the speaker in the Assembly – not the governor. Also, Buono was neither Corzine’s Senate president nor his lieutenant governor, which would have made them more of a ‘team.’
Next, let’s review the increases mentioned in the ad.
In 2006, Corzine proposed increasing New Jersey’s sales tax to 7 percent from 6 percent, claiming the hike would generate more than $1 billion in revenue and help close a $4.5 billion budget gap. Buono was one of 22 senators to approve the increase, which went into effect that July.
Then came creation of the fiscal year 2007-2008 budget, which was proposed at $33.4 billion -- the largest state budget in history to date. Each of Christie’s budgets since he’s been in office has been below that total.
Buono became chair of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee in January 2008 and served through 2009, meaning she led that panel in reviewing and editing a budget before submitting it to Corzine for approval. Buono voted in favor of the budget. Corzine had final approval over it.
And the situation is similar for the ad claim about 23 increases in taxes and fees during the two years that Buono chaired the Senate budget panel. Among the votes that Buono supported: increasing the cigarette tax, increasing the vehicle registration fee by $7, and increasing the income tax rate in various brackets.
So Buono has responsibility for these increases since she voted in favor of them, but she’s not the only legislator to do so.
The ad also is correct that state debt increased more than $13 billion during the two years of Buono’s chairmanship. But Christie calling her out for that is disingenuous since state debt has climbed an additional $13 billion from 2010 -- Christie’s first year in office -- to 2012, according to the State Debt Report for Fiscal Year 2012.
Finally, let’s look at unemployment figures for the period cited by the ad: January 2008 to January 2010.
Looking strictly at raw numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of unemployed in New Jersey more than doubled from 208,729 in January 2008 to 442,441 two years later.
But Christie’s team forgot something: New Jersey was deep in the recession, which the U.S. Bureau of Economic Research has defined as beginning in December 2007 and ending in June 2009. Employment losses continued mounting in the months after the recession ended. Consequently, one New Jersey senator can’t bare the full blame for an economic collapse that gripped the state and nation for several years.
"As the architect of Jon Corzine’s budgets, Barbara Buono was central to those disastrous policies that brough New Jersey to the brink of catastrophe," Christie for Governor spokesman Kevin Roberts said in a press release that he referred us to about the ad.
Buono for Governor spokesman David Turner blasted the ad’s claims.
"Governor Christie's blatantly misleading claims are laughable," Turner said in an e-mail. "Senator Buono voted for commonsense measures to hold lawbreakers accountable, including fees to reduce the cost of collecting child support, tougher fines against polluters and increased penalties for improperly storing explosives. With more than 400,000 people unemployed and property taxes up nearly 20 percent, it's no surprise that he has resorted to purposely distorting Senator Buono's record."
A Christie TV ad claims, "Jon Corzine, elected governor. Teams up with Barbara Buono. $1.2 billion sales tax increase? Passed. Most spending in state history? Passed. After Buono named budget chair, taxes and fees increase 23 times in just two years. State debt? Up $13.4 billion. Unemployment? Doubled."
Most of the ad’s claims are correct but imply that Buono is to blame for things such as a sales tax increase, billions in debt and skyrocketing unemployment in two years – during a recession, to boot. All of these resulted from the collective actions of a legislative body – not one person. Also, sharing a political affiliation and chairing a committee didn’t necessarily make Buono and Corzine a ‘team.’ Therefore, we rate the ad Half True.
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Fitzgerald’s Legislative Manual, State of New Jersey, 2012, accessed May 30, 2013
E-mail interview with Tom Hester Jr., spokesman, New Jersey Assembly Democrats, May 28, 2013
NJ.com, New Jersey enters 2008 facing major budget woes, Jan. 1, 2008, accessed May 30, 2013
NYTimes.com, Deal On Sales Tax Ends Shutdown in New Jersey, July 7, 2006, accessed May 30, 2013
New Jersey Legislature website, Assembly Bill 4901, 2006, accessed May 28, 2013
New Jersey Legislature website, Senate Bill 3000, 2007, accessed May 28, 2013
New Jersey Senate Democrats press release, Buono Named Chair Of Senate Budget And Appropriations Panel, Jan. 10, 2008, accessed May 30, 2013
PolitiFact New Jersey, list of tax and fee increases, 1996 to 2010
State of New Jersey Debt Report Fiscal Year 2010, Dec. 10, 2010, accessed May 28, 30 and 31, 2013
State of New Jersey Debt Report Fiscal Year 2012, Jan. 18, 2013, accessed May 30 and 31, 2013
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website, State and Local Unemployment databases, accessed May 28 and 30, 2013
E-mail interviews with Kevin Roberts, spokesman, Christie for Governor, May 30 and 31, 2013
E-mail interviews with David Turner, spokesman, Buono for Governor, May 30 and 31, 2013
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