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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET



N.J. Gov. Christie Vs. Unions

July 22, 2010 - 7:36 AM | by: Eric Shawn

The teacher was trying to give the Governor a lesson.

“You’re not compensating me for my education and you’re not compensating me for my experience,” she bluntly told New Jersey Governor Chris Christie at a crowded town hall meeting.

“Well, you know what?,” the Governor shot back. “You don’t have to do it.”

The crowd erupted into applause at his rejoinder.

“Teachers go into it knowing what the pay scale is,” Christie explained, “and what I’m saying is, is that in times of economic crisis, this whole argument is over the fact that I asked people to not take a raise for a year and to pay one and-a-half percent of their salaries towards their benefits, and your union has said that that is the greatest assault on public education in the history of the state. That’s why the union has no credibility, stupid statements like that.”

The crowd applauded again.

Perhaps no elected official in the country has taken on public employee unions more than the first term Republican Governor of the garden state. The reason he cites: the highest property taxes in the nation, an $11 billion budget deficit that needed to be closed, and a history in the state’s capital, Trenton, of politicians refusing to say no.

“We continue to give public sector workers 4 and 5 percent increases despite the fact there is zero inflation,” Christie told Fox News in June.

“We’ve continued to say that the teacher’s union is right -that teachers in the main should have to pay nothing for family health coverage, medical, dental and vision. There’s no one in the world who has this deal and the property taxpayers, the ones who have lost their jobs, and had their hours reduced, and who are paying more for their own health benefits -if they have them, they are the ones picking up the tab.”

So Christie has proposed a package of laws that would give the government more latitude when dealing with public employees.

Teachers in his state pay 5.5% of their salaries for their pension plans. They will now also contribute 1.5% of their salaries for their health care costs, under a new law he signed to deal with the financial problems.

His target, he says, has not been the teachers themselves, but their union: the New Jersey Education Association, or NJEA.

“This is not a fight against teachers, but the teachers’ union,” Christie has said.

“If there’s an invasion of Israel by the Netherlands, he will find a way to blame the NJEA for that,” responds the union’s executive director, Vincent Giordano.

In a Fox News interview in the union’s building down the street from the statehouse, Giordano rejected Christie’s attacks, saying they “aren’t warranted.”

He says teachers make an average of about $65,000 a year, and “when you put it all together, teacher salaries in New Jersey are still well below the average salary of the private sector. When you include all of the ingredients…I don’t think they are too high or too rich.”

As for the state’s budget problems, Giordano says “we don’t think we’re the problem, we try to be part of the solution. We understand the economic circumstances that exist today, we understand the economic difficulties the state is in.”

Those difficulties were partly addressed by Christie’s first budget, which reduces spending by 9%. He has also been behind a move that caps property tax and spending increases at 2%. But with another estimated $10.5 billion budget gap looming for next year, more belt tightening may have to be done.

The budget already cut school aid “in excess of $1.3 billion,” Giordano complains, saying “you can’t do that and expect to run exactly the same fine school system.” He thinks there should be a larger tax on millionaires.

The financial problems have prompted Christie to propose  even more measures aimed at reducing state spending on public employees. The proposals include permitting towns to furlough public employees to save costs, cap sick leave and unused vacation payments, and permit seasonal employees.

“Christie is going to do what he believes he needs to get things done,” observes Steve Adubato, a Ph.D and former Democratic state legislator who is now a prominent political analyst.

“Ultimately Christie is trying to clean the mess that has been made by many, many politicians before him and haven’t had the guts and the fortitude to take on a war with the public employee unions. We may not like it, it’s not pretty, but someone’s got to do it, and he’s doing it.”

Christie’s office declined a Fox News request for an interview on his efforts.

“He’s trying to undo so many things that have been ignored for so long that he looks like a bull in the china shop,” says Adubato. “But in my view, if he weren’t doing this it would be 1,000 times worse. We’re playing catch up.”

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