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Christie Corners Dems: Limit Public Worker Benefits or Lose Property Tax Relief

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

This year in New Jersey the State Assembly and the State Senate have to face the voters in November. 

And in his budget address, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told Democrats they had a clear choice. Either cut state worker benefits by shifting more of the costs to them or forget property tax relief for New Jersey's beleaguered homeowners.

"The choice is straightforward: without real health benefit reform, we will not be able to provide New Jerseyans with a doubled property tax rebate," said Christie who held out the prospect of an additional $458 million in direct property tax rebates. But if, and only if, Democrats joined him in passing legislation to require state workers to pay 30 percent of the costs of their health care premiums— up from on average just 8 percent.

"It is that simple: we can only afford this increase if health reform is passed. So, let’s pass real reform this spring and use the proceeds to double the property tax relief for middle class New Jerseyans and seniors. Please, let’s not pick the special interests over our overburdened taxpayers," Christie said.

Right after Christie's budget address, the Democratic legislative leadership blasted Christie. How did the tens of thousands of New Jersey's "hard working" public servants who do everything from care for the terminally ill to guard society's most dangerous characters, all get reduced to a "special interest?"

Democratic Assembly Majority Leader Joe Cryan said Christie was cynically pitting state workers against property tax-weary homeowners.

"The idea of playing one segment of New Jersey against another, which is in Governor Christie's playbook," said Cryan. "I thought was quite frightening. It's about property taxpayers we are fighting for, about folks who need jobs and want to see the economy improve."

Christie's $29.4 billion budget maintains last year's funding levels for higher education and municipal aid. Christie also committed to making a required half-billion dollar payment into the state's pension system that is underfunded by $54 billion.

Last year, Christie balanced his budget by withholding the mandated pension contribution because he said he was holding out for reform.

From Christie's perspective, the only way public workers will be able to lay claim to any of these benefits is if they are put on sound financial footing something now. Senate Democratic President Steve Sweeney also has a plan to reform pensions. The state's contract with its workers expires in June.

Governor Christie's budget proposal put the Democratic legislative leadership in a tough spot. Bob Masters is with the Communications Workers of America union that represents state workers. Masters said Christie is using the legislative process to supplant the collective bargaining process between the union and management.

He said Jersey Democrats should do what Wisconsin Democrats are doing and back up the unions right to negotiate these issues.

"I want to be really clear about this. We understand that people are struggling and that we need to step up and do our share. We want to do it through the process of collective bargaining as we have always done it," Masters said.

Democrats also complained that the Christie administration had been too secretive about their budget plans. They noted that journalists had actually gotten something in writing that summarized the Governor's plan — something the Democrats did not get.

Assembly Speaker Shelia Oliver said she is apprehensive about Governor Christie's plans to contain the rapidly rising costs of Medicaid, a joint state and federal program to cover the poor and disabled.

Governor Christie said to close more than $1 billion deficit in the program he needs a regulatory waiver from Washington to get flexibility. He insisted he wants to reduce the costs while improving the quality of care by shifting more patients to managed care.

Assembly Speaker Shelia Oliver said she needs specifics.

"The governor made mention that this budget contains a 30 percent reduction in the Department of Health and Human Services. And we know that that correlates with his seeking a a Medicaid waiver. We'll get into the weeds on that."

Last year Washington provided billions in additional Medicaid funding to states to help cover a spike in demand for the program related to ongoing high unemployment. That money is all gone, but states like New Jersey are still bound by the federal government not to drop anyone they have enrolled. And help from the federal health care legislation passed last year doesn't kick in until 2014. 

The Legislature and Governor Christie have until July 1 to reach a budget deal.

Bob Hennelly analyzes Christie's budget on the Brian Lehrer Show»»


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Comments [31]

Brenda from Bloomingdale

It's about shared sacrifice. Workers would be more favorable to "give-backs" if everyone was giving back: Gov. (why a pension for life after 4 or 8 years of "service?"), rich get a tax break (???come on....!!!), judges (retire after 7 years with full salary pension!!), double dipping politicians. Yeah - talk to me about giving back. You go first! I'm right BEHIND you. Want to save real money? Start by forcing true regionalization. We can no longer afford home-rule.

Feb. 23 2011 11:58 AM

One of the most successful tactics that is used to get control over the people (or the workers) is to get them to fight amongst themselves. By this method, they can pit us against each other to gain even more power. Those of us in the bottom 95% need to realize that we are in the same boat and on the same side.

Feb. 23 2011 11:53 AM
G.M. from New Jersey

Both Corzine and Christie have faced the same challenge- how do you control the tsunami of debt rolling over NJ when the state is thoroughly controlled by unions. Union political contributions, votes, and voter turnout drives- with their skewed reference points- have shaped laws in such a way that retirement at 55 with a lifetime salary average taken from the last three years of work, 4% annual salary increases, enormous onetime retirement payouts for unused sick and vacation days, and lifetime major medical, dental, and vision benefits are the norm, regardless of economic events impacting taxpayers in the wider society, and represent political patronage paid to a new political/social class- public employees. All roads to the debt crisis' lead back to union political activity fixing the laws so unions have peremptory opportunities to torpedo any cost saving efforts on the part of elected officials. Laws are fixed that require all government contract bidders to pay union wages when less than would be still a great gain for most working people of similar skill sets. Unions have become the government's arbiters for regulating quasi-public and private concerns competing with the unions to provide government services. At each and every avenue unions have manipulated legislators to provide them with untold access and veto power, either through laws or regulations, to torpedo real cost saving to the taxpayers.

Feb. 23 2011 11:47 AM

This effort is a continuation of the Republican agenda that will make the U.S. into a one party corporate state. People need to back up and recognize the trend over the past 20-30 years. I can not understate the importance of the fact that the middle class has been declining and continues to be weakened. Eliminating our union collective bargaining right is simply the next step in moving the money and power upward to the corporate elite. The conservative elites that design the
media messages are experts at propaganda and they have almost unlimited resources from which to fund their agenda.
Our "good" representatives, especially on the conservative side, do not have the courage to stand up to the big guys, so they end up taking from the least among us who have no power.

Feb. 23 2011 11:40 AM
Edward from NJ

@Liz Westbrook wrote, "On that same program, Jim Cramer said that he would like to be a New Jersey teacher since the starting salaries in the state is $55,000, a total lie."

There may well be some gold-town, boutique school district where this is true. The real lie is that Jim Cramer thinks that $55,000 is a lot of money.

Feb. 23 2011 11:01 AM
Liz Westbrook from 08850

I think the only reason that Christie is offering property tax cuts in exchange for a large increase in public worker health care contributions is to get support from overtaxed New Jerseyans. As a public worker who pays property taxes, the offset will not be equal to the increased contribution so we lose once again.

I am also bothered by the fact that our governor said on a news program (MSNBC's Morning Joe) this morning that teachers had given back nothing. Many teachers agreed to a pay freeze last year as well as other concessions. On that same program, Jim Cramer said that he would like to be a New Jersey teacher since the starting salaries in the state is $55,000, a total lie. Both lies went unchallenged.

The fact that the little guy must again shoulder the burden of an underfunded pension fund, malfeasance of our Trenton lawmakers and losses in the value of the fund due to illegal practices in the financial industry makes my blood boil.

Feb. 23 2011 10:55 AM
S.R. Sehgal

Hold New Jersey government "hostage" the same way the unemployed were during the Obama December tax cuts -- No deal until the rich pay more. This isn't Wisconsin. Dems have power and Christie is required by law to contribute to pension fund. He has NO leverage.

Feb. 23 2011 10:51 AM

the caller who called in and was embarrassed to collect 5000 a month, and thought it was too much, sounds like a false caller.
Unless he has a huge nest egg from an inheritance, 5000 a month is not that much to live on nowadays.
Also he said that he was embarrassed to collect 2000 a month in social security, as he was a burden on the taxpayers. He is either the dumbest teacher and should never have gotten tenure or he is as i said before a fake.
Social security at retirement and disability ssdi not ssi is something you have paid into with your fica withholding for your work history. It is withheld for exactly this purpose, nothing else, social security. you have paid for it, like a 401k.
i paid well over 35 years into fica, my employers also matched my withholdings. So I am just getting back what i put into the system, if one has not worked long enough, they get nothing. Also the more money one makes and contributes, the more money you will get, it maxes out at around 2200 a month. if you made 30,000 a year average your social security would be much less. could be around $ 1000.

Also the self-employed get beat in a way, but they have many more write-offs than a pure w2 employee, so it may work out even.
They must contribute the full 15% or whatever it is nowadays, yet get the same as the employees who contributed half and their employer contributed the other half to make up the 15%.
. employees contribute 7.5 and employers 7.5.
i believe he was a total fake, as he as a teacher should know where the social security come from.
Once a person becomes eligable for social security they are mailed a pamphlet from social security explaining how much they will collect if the earnings remain the same and how much they have contributed over their lifetime

Feb. 23 2011 10:50 AM
Greg from Chatham

The man is a crook. He has and continues to steal from every pot of money he can find. From pensions to the clean energy fund. He has cut taxes for the wealthy and shifted the burden to the middle class, the poor and the local municipalities. Our local taxes and costs of services are sky-rocketing, yet the services are diminishing. For the middle class, we are being squeezed from both ends. The poor are really being screwed. Cut Camden police force by 50% ? it is a third world country over there now. Next is Newark... When will people stop voting against their own interests ?

Feb. 23 2011 10:45 AM
Brian from Hoboken

I didn't vote for Christie because he offered no details in his campaign, but at least he is governing like he doesn't care about re-election. The average NJ property tax bill is exactly double the national average. My town (Hoboken- an Abbott district per the 2000 census but certainly not once the 2010 updates come through) spends over $24,000 per pupil and sees terrible results. Do you really think that spending another $3000 per pupil will do anything? Of course not.

Feb. 23 2011 10:43 AM
Patricia Morris from Millstone, NJ

Gov. Christie is very good on bait and switch. Bob Henley should analyze who gets the rebates and how much they get vs the very real losses for state workers into the future. I'm not a state worker, but I am a NJ taxpayer, and my real estate taxes have gone up $800 because Christie underfunded state payments to local schools. After that horse has left the barn, Christie pretends that he isn't imposing new taxes, that in fact he is lowering property taxes. And people believe him!

Feb. 23 2011 10:39 AM
Jane from Morristown

In addition to being an unquestioning champion of conservative causes, Christie is a master at getting the working people to fight each other over the crumbs. The man has a future in Washington.

Feb. 23 2011 10:34 AM
Edward from NJ

@Martin, I don't support Christie, but the options in the poll are silly, so I didn't vote.

Feb. 23 2011 10:33 AM
Greg Debski from Howell, Planet Jersey

"High Priced State"? If that is the rationale to maintain and increase public workers compensation, we aere in a fiscal death spiral: one of the main reasons NJ is "high-priced" is because of public workers' compensation. So if we increase such to keep up with the stndard of living, it becomes more of a high-priced state which forces us to further increase compensation which......

Feb. 23 2011 10:33 AM
elaine from li

This is it. The caller who points out the number of millionaires in NJ and the growing disparity of wealth being reflective of the direction of the nation. This is the issue that needs to be dealt with. This will bring down our nation and a huge percentage of this country does not get it and continually vote against their own best interests. They are easily swayed by politicians who know how to package their bull%^$# by wrapping it up with "Freedom & Guns" vs "Socialism".

Feb. 23 2011 10:32 AM
Marcia Olander from New Jersey

From what I understand, for years politicians have found it easier to agree to increasing "benefits" for public sector workers because it was easier (less immediate budget pain). Bottom line: both labor and government were at fault. No new benefits should be agreed upon without real funding. As for the current situation for public sector workers, I think Christie is trying to play both sides off each other - But, in the end, I suspect the unions will have to accept cuts - and I doubt that homeowners will see much of a benefit anyway in terms of taxes.

Feb. 23 2011 10:32 AM
donna from brooklyn

the problem with public employee unions and their exorbitant benefits is that they expect 100% of the working public to fund their retirement. well the working public needs to fund their own future. the focus on millionaires is a distraction.

Feb. 23 2011 10:31 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

LOL.....the Unofficial Poll shows 86% of WNYC listeners supporting Christie!!

Hurry up, union guys and gals .... call your friends quickly to log in and vote.... and avoid embarrassment.

Feb. 23 2011 10:30 AM
George from Morris County, NJ

Isn't Christie's pension proposal theft? My librarian wife paid into the state pension program for 25 years with a written formula for calculating her pension. Christie changed the formula for the worse without renegotiation and is threatening to further cut pensions. The crisis stems from Governors (including Christie), for many years, not meeting their annual obligation to pay into the plan.

Isn't NJ contractually obligated to pay as promised?

Feb. 23 2011 10:29 AM
Edward from NJ

Christie will make these state-level cuts, and our local governments will continue to raise property taxes. It's lose lose.

Feb. 23 2011 10:25 AM
Charles from Carmel, NY

I am a liberal, but the discussion on Christie is obviously biased and sneers clearly both in tone and in some of the words at his policy. There is little fairness in the discussion. The whole show cries out for and justifies the movement to shut down public broadcasting, which is overhwlmingly biased.

Feb. 23 2011 10:24 AM
Al from New Jersey

Spending public money wisely is important - that is exactly why Chris Christie is unsustainable. Look into the details behind his generalities and his failure becomes obvious.

Feb. 23 2011 10:21 AM
elaine from li

Didn't Christie cost the state millions in education funding because of a clerical error?

Feb. 23 2011 10:19 AM
RLewis

Oh come on, Martin. The income gap between rank & file workers and bosses has gone from 40x to 400x. Why should class warfare be left aside? Because it goes against your ideology. How much longer should the money people with their corrupt mortgage bundling be allowed to destroy the economy and the rest of us are supposed pay the price to bail them out?

Feb. 23 2011 10:14 AM
David from queens

If Christie wants to lower healthcare costs in NJ, he should lead by example and drop about 40lbs. NJ wont have to pay for his bypass or obeisity-related medications.

Feb. 23 2011 10:11 AM

Why give more property tax rebates? let the voters to stop voting for local government spending if they don't want to pay lacal taxes. property tax rebates sounds like socialism for the rich municipalities

Feb. 23 2011 10:08 AM

tax oil! tax sugar!

Feb. 23 2011 10:02 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

All this hysterical blubbering about class warfare and Cairo aside, these state budgets are just not sustainable.

Forget about taxing the very rich (insufficient) as a remedy....you could outright seize all of their assets (only available once, remember) and it would feed this creature for less than a year. There simply is nobody that can pay for this system without significantly downsizing it.

Feb. 23 2011 09:51 AM
K Webster from NYC

We are are asked to pick which basic necessity we will sacrifice: health care, a home, a job with living wages (any job?), care for seniors and children.
We are asked which of our neighbors we'd like to see have a poorer life. And pray it won't be us.
Meanwhile...the very very very wealthy "legally" steal more money than they could use in a hundred lifetimes.
Are we allowed to call it class warfare yet?
I think I hear Cairo calling.

Feb. 23 2011 09:35 AM
maryam from Newark

Please ask Henlley to look into what is going on with Newark Schools

Feb. 23 2011 09:34 AM
Ed from Larchmont

The current budget problems were kind of predictable. If someone said we would lose 50 million of our young people, one would say: Medicaid wouldn't have enough money, nor Social Security or the health insurance system, since they all need young people to pay in to support the older people. Demography.

Feb. 23 2011 08:50 AM

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