Why is the flooding caused by Hurricane Irene an emergency worth spending federal money on, while the jobs crisis caused by the financial crash does not merit a response?
That would be a good question to pose to Chris Christie. As noted last week, the New Jersey governor was among a number of Republicans who had kind words for FEMA's response to Hurricane Irene. His support for the federal agency was rather visible on Sunday as he stood shoulder to shoulder with President Obama, who promised further federal aid for storm-ravaged New Jersey, which has just been declared a federal disaster area. ("We'll be here to help,'' Obama told a Jersey resident, whose gratitude suggests that, contra Reagan, those promissory words aren't so terrifying.)
Christie's embrace of the federal government constitutes a 180. Last year, New Jersey, like many other states, faced an unemployment crisis caused by a catastrophe far more devastating than Irene -- the near-meltdown of global financial markets. Jersey had (and continues to have) a rate of unemployment that tracks or exceeds the country's as a whole.
Unlike many governors, Christie was given a golden chance to do something about it in the form of a massive public works project -- an $11 billion project to build a rail tunnel under the Hudson that would have more than doubled the number of trains from New Jersey to Manhattan. The federal government was on the hook for several billion dollars of the project's cost.
Aside from significantly improving New Jersey's infrastructure and paving the way from a streamlined New Jersey-Manhattan commute for future generations, the project would have created jobs:
Proponents said the project would have created 6,000 construction-related jobs annually and close to 45,000 permanent jobs once completed.
$610 million worth of construction had already begun when Christie killed the project in October 2010. Since then, New Jersey's unemployment level has been flat, and the state owes the federal government $271 million.
One wonders Christie's recent experience has tempered his allergy to federal intrusion. Given that it was only a few months ago that he railed against the federal deficit, I'd like to know how if he believes that New Jersey and the rest of the states should foot the $1.5 billion bill the White House is set to pay for disaster aid.