Catholic leaders are cautiously optimistic Gov.-elect Chris Christie will keep several campaign promises, including opposing same-sex marriage legislation and supporting school choice for needy children.
However, there is a wait-and-see attitude about how Christie plans to reduce state spending, especially if it affects programs that serve the poor, such as health care and rental assistance, said Patrick R. Brannigan, executive director, New Jersey Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops.
Christie received 49 percent of the vote to 45 percent for Gov. Jon S. Corzine in the Nov. 3 election.
Brannigan believes Christie’s stance on the same-sex marriage issue was a major factor in helping him get elected.
Christie, who like the NJCC feels the current law protecting civil unions is sufficient, believes marriage should be exclusively between one man and one woman. He has promised to veto any bill legalizing same-sex marriage.
Corzine has promised to sign a same-sex marriage bill if he receives one before he leaves office in January. If that happened, Christie said he would seek to give voters an opportunity to overturn it by approving an amendment to the state Constitution.
Catholics in New Jersey should also be encouraged by Christie’s pro-life stances, Brannigan added. He supports restrictions that would ban the procedure known as partial-birth abortion, and supports laws that would require parental notification and a 24-hour waiting period.
Brannigan also believes it is also unlikely Christie will seek to bring back the death penalty, which was abolished during the Corzine administration with the support of the NJCC. One reason, Brannigan noted, is that carrying out the sentence is too costly.
When it comes to education, Christie, a Catholic whose four children attend parochial school, and the NJCC support the proposed Urban Enterprise Zone Jobs Scholarship Act, Brannigan said.
The bill, which was still being considered in committees as of Nov. 9, would provide scholarships for eligible low-income children to attend participating public or non-public schools.
Protecting the poor
Some of the NJCC’s concerns about Christie might not fully surface until he seeks to implement some of his plans to control spending, Brannigan said. The state is facing an estimated $8 billion deficit in next year’s budget.
At a meeting with Ocean County mayors several days after the election, Christie said one of his administration’s early priorities will be to review the efficiency of the state Council on Affordable Housing, according to the Asbury Park Press. He claimed affordable housing obligations cost local taxpayers too much and usually do not result in housing being built.
Brannigan said the NJCC has “grave concerns about the needs of the poor and people in need who always are in danger when budget cuts are made so that we would want to work hard to make sure those individuals are hurt the least, and Gov. Corzine did a good job on that.”
He added that the NJCC is committed to a primary principle of Catholic social teaching, which is preferential treatment for the poor.
Marlene Laó-Collins, the NJCC’s director of social concerns, noted that when Gov. Corzine decided on his budget cuts, he preserved social programs and also added funding for food banks, rental assistance programs, family care and affordable health care coverage for the very poor.
She hopes Christie will preserve them as well.
“In these difficult economic times, we are not only seeing the folks that we used to see, but there is a growing number of people that are going to agencies like Catholic Charities that are unemployed and need these kind of programs,” Laó-Collins said.
“In respect to the common good and the impact on the poor, regardless of which candidate won, we were worried about what the budget was going to look like. With Corzine we knew he had that sensibility for that population because he had proven it in the last four or five years.”
The USCCB principals call for a universal health policy and access for all with a special concern for the poor and inclusion of legal immigrants.
Christie’s plan to make health insurance more affordable includes: increase the number of affordable health insurance options; emphasize early detection and preventive care; increase competition; eliminate the assessment on individual and small group premiums; and fight fraud, waste, and abuse in the healthcare and health insurance systems. He does not support a public option.
On the issue of overall immigration reform, Christie, a former U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, did not articulate a position. However, Christie has stated being in the U.S. without proper documentation is not a crime but a civil wrong.
Christie also has stated that undocumented immigrants are not criminals unless they have re-entered the country after being deported. In addition, their cases should be handled by federal authorities.
The immigration issue is important to the Catholic community in New Jersey because so many immigrants are Catholic, Laó-Collins said.