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 teachersâ union in the state responded by spending millions of dollars in television and radio ads to attack him.
âThe argument you heard most vociferously from the teachersâ union,â Christie says, âwas that this was the greatest assault on public education in the history of New Jersey.â Here the fleshy governor lumbers a few steps toward the audience and lowers his voice for effect. âNow, 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 1Â˝ percent of their salary for their health care benefits? Have any of your children come home â any of them â and said, âMom.â â Pause. â âDad.â â Another pause. â âPlease. Stop the madness.â â
By this point the audience is starting to titter, but Christie remains steadfastly somber in his role as the beseeching student. â âJust pay for my teacherâs health benefits,â â he pleads, â âand Iâll get Aâs, I swear. But I just cannot take the stress thatâs being presented by a 1Â˝ percent contribution to health benefits.â â As the crowd breaks into appreciative guffaws, Christie waits a theatrical moment, then slams his point home. âNow, youâre all laughing, right?â he says. âBut this is the crap I have to hear.â
Chris Christie has become one of the most successful poltiicans inÂ theÂ US, not just because he is bashing the unions into oblicion in New Jersey calling them out, especially public secotr unions, for their largesse atÂ theÂ taxpayers expense but because he is blunt.
Some critics have posited that Christieâs 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 itâs 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 isnât simply plain talk or swagger, but also the fact that he has found the ideal adversary for this moment of economic vertigo.Â Ronald Reagan had his âwelfare queens,âÂ Rudy Giuliani had his criminals and âsqueegee men,â and now Chris Christie has his sprawling and powerful public-sector unions â 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 thatÂ theÂ 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 stopÂ cityÂ officialsÂ like our own rapacious Len brown, jacking up rates or property taxes as they are called in the US.
The centerpiece of Christieâs frenzied agenda, which passed the Democratic-Âcontrolled 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 Jerseyâs townships and cities will have to hold the line when negotiating municipal labor contracts if they want to remain solvent, because they canât rely on either their residents or the state for more money.
Amen to that. Rodney Hide shouldÂ haveÂ built this into the Super CityÂ 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 Christieâs 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. Itâs 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 governorâs proposals are finding sympathy from less-partisan budget experts, if only because they donât see obvious alternatives. âIâve tried to look at this objectively, and I just donât know of any other option,â says Richard Keevey, who served as budget director for a Democratic governor,Â Jim Florio, and a Republican governor, Tom Kean. âYou couldnât tax your way out of this.â
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:
Whatâs done is done, he told me, and itâs 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. âListen, if they want to travel in theÂ Michael J. Fox time machine and change time, I guess we could try that,â he said. âWe 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 weâve got to live with what weâve got.â
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, aboutÂ theÂ 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.