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Thursday, March 18, 2010 4:29 PM

Governor Christie Calls Unions "Crass Bullies of State Street"; Says Unions Have a Choice "Givebacks or Layoffs"

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Every time I listen to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie I want to stand up and salute. Today is no different. Here is a series of articles by the Star-Ledger for your consideration.

This is the Moment to Fix It

Chris Christie:'This is the moment' to fix state finances

Blunt and unapologetic about the consequences of his cuts, Gov. Chris Christie hit the road Wednesday to peddle his first state budget.

In a Bayonne firehouse, a series of television interviews and a meeting with The Star-Ledger editorial board, Christie made his case for immediate and dramatic changes to the size and cost of government and the pay and benefits of public employees.

He said an $820 million reduction in aid to school districts will force them to choose between "givebacks or layoffs" for teachers and other employees. He took on their union with relish, saying the "800-pound gorilla" New Jersey Education Association will also face a choice: "Do they want to lose members or do they want to reopen contracts?"

"This is it. We’re in the middle of a crisis, I’ve got everyone’s attention, this is the moment to fix it," the governor said. "My view is, I’m a Republican who’s been elected in New Jersey. If I play along the margins and don’t try to fix these problems, then I didn’t deserve to be elected in the first place ... I’m going to fix it or I’m going down trying."

A day after proposing a $29.3 billion budget balanced with widespread cuts instead of tax increases, Christie predicted the final budget lawmakers must agree to by July 1 will be "very close" to his plan. But he stressed he will not raise taxes on the wealthy or businesses to offset about $1 billion in other cuts that ruling Democratic legislators say unfairly hit the poor and middle class.

"I don’t care. I don’t care about this rhetoric. They send it to my desk, it’s coming back," Christie said.
Day of Reckoning

Gov. Chris Christie speaks to Star-Ledger's editorial board about "day of reckoning" budget cuts
A fired-up Gov. Chris Christie visited The Star-Ledger editorial board today to make his case for a proposed state budget that he believes will be the first step in solving New Jersey's financial problems.

The governor made no apologies for his plan to slash school aid, property tax rebate checks, municipal aid and dozens of state programs and departments. He said he is prepared to fight to get the budget through the state Legislature, even if it costs him re-election.

Christie saved his biggest criticism for the state teachers unions, including the New Jersey Education Association. Teachers may have to give up pay raises and contribute more to their health care plans if school districts can't make ends meet after the proposed state aid cuts.

"The teachers union has a choice here: Do they want to lose members? Or do they want to reopen contracts?" Christie said.

Christie said he suspects the leaders of the NJEA are "crass union bosses" who have little interest in compromising with Trenton lawmakers.

"Those people have been the bullies of State Street . . . and they're not going to bully me," Christie said.
Please click on the preceding link for 4 video clips.

Excerpts from governor's visit to Star-Ledger

Gov. Chris Christie's budget storm: Excerpts from governor's visit to Star-Ledger editorial board
Reaction to his budget address

I’ve said what I wanted to say, the way I wanted to say it, and I feel like the reaction so far has been good . . . Even for people that are concerned about some of the particular cuts, all of them kind of prefaced their comments with, "We understand what you have to do." And I think there is a real recognition out there that the state’s a mess, and we have to do this. ....

Negotiating the budget with the Legislature

At the end, a budget’s got to get passed. That’s why I think it will be very close to what I proposed . . . There are very limited choices here. We’ve been very transparent with them. I think we’re the first administration where the treasurer’s been sharing daily cash reports with OLS (Office of Legislative Services). . . . So we all know what the scope of the problem is and with a problem of that scope, there are very limited fixes that you can do. ...

Ending surtax on incomes over $400,000

(If Democrats wanted to renew it) they should have done it. It expired Dec. 31 — it didn’t expire on my watch. Jon Corzine said he would sign it . . .
And now, all of a sudden, because I’ve said I don’t want it, now all of a sudden it’s a big issue. Now they want it. They don’t want it. If they wanted it, they would have passed it. So I don’t want to hear from them about this idea of raising the surcharge, because my response to them is going to be "You had your chance. You had your chance." . . .

Do we really want to have a top 11 percent marginal income tax rate permanently? Because if we do, that’s fine, but we’ll have unemployment that will be crippling in this state going forward. I just don’t buy it.

The prospect of layoffs at public schools

The school boards are going to have to be willing to do something that nobody’s been willing to do, up until yesterday, which is to publicly stand up to the teachers union. Now, the teachers union has a choice to make here — do they want to lose members, or do they want to reopen contracts? Now, this is going to be a key determining factor in telling you whether they’re for their members or for their big building on West State Street. Because the logical thing to do, that other unions have done, has been to reopen contracts, take lesser salary increases, contribute more to health benefits to maintain members and maintain jobs. But when you get $730 dollars a year from your 185,000 full-time members — so you’ve got over $100 million budget every year — what’s the priority then? I could feel when I started talking about the teachers union, you know how they say, y’know, dogs can smell fear? You could feel the air come out of that room. Those people have been the bullies of State Street. They have bullied every administration, Democrat and Republican. And they’re not going to bully me. So now the question’s going to be, what do they want to do?

Are teacher salaries too high?

I think in some respects they are. I think that when you’re looking at 4 percent and 5 percent salary increases, just like they gave out in Marlboro this year, in this economic environment, I think teachers should step up to the plate and say "I’m not taking an increase." Because I’ll tell you, I don’t know who in the private sector is getting increases. . . .

I don’t think the (salary) base is a big problem. I think the increases, as we continue to go on and on, and continue to pile these increases up on top of each other, without any regard to the economic conditions around us, is the problem. And the benefits is an enormous problem.

On capping sick-leave payouts for public workers at $15,000

Well listen, my preference would be go to zero. I come from the federal system, where we can’t cash out sick leave. Now, why is one class of public employees different than another? . . .

On restraining local spending and capping property taxes

We can’t afford to pay for the over-excesses of the locals anymore. Look at what the state budget is all about. It’s about aid to school districts, and aid to municipalities. And Medicaid. You take those three, and that’s a huge percentage of the budget. . . . What we’ve been doing at the state level is papering over the excess of the locals. And I put it out there in the speech yesterday: In 2009, when we lose 121,000 private sector jobs, we add 11,300 jobs at the municipal and school board level. It’s unconscionable.

The future of the state pension funds

The end game is to do two things: to bend the benefit curve . . . (and) we’ve got to look at how much employees contribute to it. . . . Remember this: if the state made every dollar of its contributions over the last ten years, we would be funded today at 74 percent. We’re funded today at 64 percent. So, with all this talk about the state’s contribution, it would only raise us 10 percentage points. So where’s the 26 percent gone? Well, some of it’s because of the stock market decline, and some of the bad decisions that were made by the investment council. But some of it is about benefits being too rich, and employees not making the correct level of contribution . .

This is not radical, it’s common sense

You’re talking about real change. There’s nothing radical about it — what’s radical is what we’ve done. It’s not even real conservative change — it’s real common sense change. I mean, how are we going to pay for this? We’ve got the highest property taxes in America, we’ve got the second-highest income tax rate in America, the second-highest sales tax rate in America, and the sixth-highest corporate tax rate in America. Where are we going?
There are many more clips in the link. Every one of them is worth reading, believing, acting on.

Governor calls for ‘real change’ at the local level
Here's a video clip for the road.

Uncommon Sense

If that does not make you want to stand up and salute, you are either a union clown or lacking in common sense.

Governor Christie says "This is not radical, it’s common sense." The sad state of affairs is that in a world of union and government termites and pestilence, Common Sense Is Radical.

Indeed Governor Christie is a paragon of leadership and "Uncommon Sense". If only Congress and the other governors would listen.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
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