Politician of the week – Chris Christie

And so, Christie goes on, forced to cut more than $1 billion in local aid in order to balance the budget, he asked the teachers not only to accept a pay freeze for a year but also to begin contributing 1.5 percent of their salaries toward health care. The dominant teachers’ union in the state responded by spending millions of dollars in television and radio ads to attack him.

“The argument you heard most vociferously from the teachers’ union,” Christie says, “was that this was the greatest assault on public education in the history of New Jersey.” Here the fleshy governor lumbers a few steps toward the audience and lowers his voice for effect. “Now, do you really think that your child is now stressed out and unable to learn because they know that their poor teacher has to pay 1½ percent of their salary for their health care benefits? Have any of your children come home — any of them — and said, ‘Mom.’ ” Pause. “ ‘Dad.’ ” Another pause. “ ‘Please. Stop the madness.’ ”

By this point the audience is starting to titter, but Christie remains steadfastly somber in his role as the beseeching student. “ ‘Just pay for my teacher’s health benefits,’ ” he pleads, “ ‘and I’ll get A’s, I swear. But I just cannot take the stress that’s being presented by a 1½ percent contribution to health benefits.’ ” As the crowd breaks into appreciative guffaws, Christie waits a theatrical moment, then slams his point home. “Now, you’re all laughing, right?” he says. “But this is the crap I have to hear.”

Chris Christie has become one of the most successful poltiicans in the US, not just because he is bashing the unions into oblicion in New Jersey calling them out, especially public secotr unions, for their largesse at the taxpayers expense but because he is blunt.

Some critics have posited that Christie’s success in office represents merely the triumph of self-certainty over complexity, the yearning among voters for leaders who talk bluntly and with conviction. Yet it’s hard to see Christie getting so much traction if he were out there castigating, say, immigrants or Wall Street bankers. What makes Christie compelling to so many people isn’t simply plain talk or swagger, but also the fact that he has found the ideal adversary for this moment of economic vertigo. Ronald Reagan had his “welfare queens,” Rudy Giuliani had his criminals and “squeegee men,” and now Chris Christie has his sprawling and powerful public-sector unions — teachers, cops and firefighters who Christie says are driving up local taxes beyond what the citizenry can afford, while also demanding the kind of lifetime security that most private-sector workers have already lost.

Chris Christie has found an issue, one that the general public of New Jersey can identify with in tough economic times. It is one that the Governor in Wisconsin has also found to of importance and it is likely that it is one that National can point to as well in coming years.

It may just be that Christie has stumbled onto the public-policy issue of our time, which is how to bring the exploding costs of the public workforce in line with reality.

Faced with ballooning deficits and dodgy books Chris Christie had to act and based on the number salone he had but one choice.

After scrutinizing the budget, Christie told me, his team came to the conclusion that the only way to get control of local taxes and state spending was to go after the pension and health care benefits that the public-sector unions held sacrosanct. From that point on, it seems, Christie has conducted his governorship as if he were still a grandstanding prosecutor, taking powerful unions on perp walks with evident enthusiasm.

We have similar state sector unions who are hold outs to reality here in New Zealand. The NZEI and the PPTA among them, demanding ever increasing pay rises in the face of a recession. but Chros Chrostie has also passed laws that stop city officials like our own rapacious Len brown, jacking up rates or property taxes as they are called in the US.

The centerpiece of Christie’s frenzied agenda, which passed the Democratic-­controlled Legislature last July, is a strict cap on local property taxes, which will be allowed to rise no more than 2 percent every year. When combined with a reduction in state aid, what this means, practically speaking, is that New Jersey’s townships and cities will have to hold the line when negotiating municipal labor contracts if they want to remain solvent, because they can’t rely on either their residents or the state for more money.

Amen to that. Rodney Hide should have built this into the Super City legislation, the fact that he didn’t is a reason for him to bow his head in un-ending shame. Chris Christie went further though, because city official are so myopic and inside the box thinkers he even provided solutions for them to use to control their budgets.

These include, for instance, a proposal that would allow localities to opt out of the civil-service system altogether, giving them more control over hiring and firing local officials, and another that would limit the cash payouts that retiring workers can take for their unused sick days. On the pension front, if Christie has his way with the Legislature, most union members would contribute more to their plans than they have up to now, and all of them would retire later and receive lower benefit payments.

But the real issue is one that we need to face here too, especially int eh face of increasingly militant state sector unions hell bent on feather-bedding their members at taxpayers expense.

The crux of Christie’s argument is that public-sector contracts have to reflect what has happened in the private sector, where guaranteed pensions and free health care are becoming relics. It’s not surprising that this stand has ingratiated Christie to conservatives in Washington; advocacy groups and activists on the right have carried out a long campaign to discredit the ever-shrinking labor movement in the private sector, and what Christie has done, essentially, is to blast his way into the final frontier, taking on the public-sector unions that have come to wield enormous political power. More surprising is how the governor’s proposals are finding sympathy from less-partisan budget experts, if only because they don’t see obvious alternatives. “I’ve tried to look at this objectively, and I just don’t know of any other option,” says Richard Keevey, who served as budget director for a Democratic governor, Jim Florio, and a Republican governor, Tom Kean. “You couldn’t tax your way out of this.”

That last line is pure gold. Labour’s solution to everything right now is to tax their way out of the hole they helped dig. We need politicians who do exactly what Chris Christie is doing and saying. And they need to say things like this:

What’s done is done, he told me, and it’s time for someone to tell these workers the truth, which is that the state is simply never going to have the money to make good on its commitments. “Listen, if they want to travel in the Michael J. Fox time machine and change time, I guess we could try that,” he said. “We could get the DeLorean out and try to go back there. But I think realistically that that was just a movie and make-believe. So we’ve got to live with what we’ve got.”

It is time in New Zealand four our politicians to have the same chat about things like the ETS, like Working for Families about burgeoning ECE costs, about the NZSO, about the Royal NZ Ballet and the Families Commission, about the Women’s Affairs ministry and about any other useless do nothing state sector establishment. New Zealand can’t afford all those frivolities, we must live with what we have got and within those means and not mortgage our future to the promises of politicians long past.

 

  • jeffw

    Great post; 100% concur. The very first thing that needs to change is the defined benefit super schemes the public sector has, but have gone (or are very close to going 100%) from the public sector. They should be on defined contribution like everyone else.

  • odysseus

    Surely you don’t mean treat all areas of society as equals and reduce spending/bring into line spending on ALL groups – unions, public sector and – dare we say it – Ethnic groups?? you mean abandon the current 1984 style we are all equal except some more equal than others – or should that be 1841 ?

    Would this be what the Dodgy Pensioner is trying to latch onto – to rehabilitate himself for election…

    This proper curtains removing work showing ALL spending to realities of daylight needs to happen. There are worthy projects and important aspects to be considered – personally I think the world would be dull and boring without some culture and society as a whole needs to be looked after – not just fringes rich poor or otherwise – but accountability and logical reality needs to arrive at these shores.. not politically loaded gaming which invariably swings from one extreme to the other …. OUT

  • mikeman

    Ahhh Cam I see why you make the “Business as Usual” pollies nervous.

    Common sense has no place in politics, in fact I am fairly sure that the bulk of the politicians have this area of the brain remove in a mandatory procedure in their first few days in the house.

    Chris Christie is a great speaker and shows a great deal of common sense.

    I think John Key has the POTENTIAL to be a similar sort of person and I am willing to put up with the slow pace on change for the rest of the term, but if we have the same snails pace after the 2011 election then I will be pissed off in a major way, if the election goes the way I think it will then the Nats will have a huge mandate to pull apart the nanny state bureaucracy and if they do not spend the next 3 years doing that then we will have wasted 6 years on these guys.

    Of course the other options are worse so leaving the country becomes the only option at that point.

  • daveg

    Love this guy, look him up Youtube, he tears apart Unions and makes leftie teachers cry.

  • The Gantt Guy

    mikeman, are you on drugs? You think the quisling, quivering little schoolgirl Key has the balls to go toe-to-toe with the massive nanny state? In a country as addicted to socialism as New Zealand? Let’s be a little bit real here. He can’t even beat the teachers’ unions into submission, and everyone hates them! The prick is looking to trade away the entire coast-line for 5 Apartheid Party votes. He caved on mining like a whimp in the face of a couple of unemployed actresses and a few smelly eco-mentalists taking a stroll down Queen Street. He imposed the economically suicidal Emissions Trading Scam to appease the various watermelon elements.

    The man is a charlatan who has clearly never read the “vision” page of the National Party’s website. The only reason he’s so bloody popular is because there’s no opposition.

  • animalmother

    Indeed, Ganttman. So fucking much for Key’s 2008 election night vow of a line-by-line accounting of waste in the government sector. However you omitted mention of the U-turn on the smacking law, and the grubby little backroom deal he did to basically reinstate the Electoral Finance Act in all but name. Mikeman, I’m afraid the only potential I see in him is the potential to bail like a bitch the minute the honeymoon is over.

    • http://whaleoil.gotcha.co.nz Whaleoil

      It was Simon Power that did the backroom deal on electoral finance.

      • The Gantt Guy

        Sorry Whale, but that’s a cop-out. There’s no way FIGJAM would have the intellect, cunning or sheer stones to stitch up this deal behind the boss’s back. Key must have known about it all the way and, as a minimum, tacitly endorsed it.

  • thor42

    Chris Christie is great! John Key, on the other hand, needs to ***HARDEN THE F**K UP***. For f**k’s sake, John, crush the f**king teacher unions! People have had a gutsful of them catering to the f**king illiterate teachers.

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