Christie battles Goliath
Walk down State Street in Trenton, and you will see lobbyists and union members quivering in their boots. It might last four years or it might last eight, but this is a sight that is a rarity in New Jersey, and it does not come a moment too soon. Gov. Chris Christie has finally taken a sledgehammer to the state's budget and the almost $11 billion deficit New Jersey has incurred for more than the past eight years. His proposed budget, which is tragic for those drunk under the impression that government works as a philanthropist organization takes aim directly at the bully of State Street — The New Jersey Education Association.
Former Gov. John S. Corzine promised $609 million of federal stimulus money to fund school districts throughout New Jersey without any consideration that the money might not be there in the future. When the Democrats signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Conservatives, libertarians, moderates and even a few Democrats understood that stimulus money would offer immediate relief and then disappear. New Jersey is now facing that crisis; Democrats have been irresponsible with both federal and state tax dollars for years. For some moronic reason, it has been deemed that spending on school districts can only go up and never down. As if unmerited pensions and sweetheart Cadillac insurance plans, paid for by taxpayers enhances the education of students.
Christie, depicted as the big bad wolf by the NJEA has now proposed an $820 million cut in public school spending and $173 million to higher education, including a 15 percent reduction in University aid. This cut is not an attack on education. Rather, it is a message from the governor telling the teachers union and the University to live within their means and conduct some sort of personal responsibility and accountability. The teachers union has a chance to prove to students and parents that they are serious about education. Under Christie's proposed budget, not one teaching job needs to be cut as long as NJEA reopens contracts, stops pay increases — especially for underperforming "educators" — and have union members contribute 1.5 percent of their salary to their own health insurance. In other words, NJEA members would be forced to pay on average $750 of their paycheck into their insurance plan.
With Christie's budget announcement, the union has repeatedly told the people of New Jersey that teachers will be cut and education will falter. This is a completely absurd gesture. How little do public school teachers in New Jersey care about the education of their students? NJEA is threatening to fire teachers based on seniority and refuse to acknowledge that merit based pay works. They are against school vouchers and charter schools, yet these are the people educating the youth of our state.
If the NJEA is looking to save jobs, why do not they? The over 800,000-member union can waive their $730 annual "voluntarily" fees for mandated memberships and save teachers from paying toward their own health insurance. Why won't the NJEA open up their record books and show the people of New Jersey how and where they spend their money? Do students learn better when transparency is absent from their educators, or how about when their teachers chastise policies, like the freedom to choose your school?
The University is in a similar situation — will the University choose education as its No. 1 priority? Or will they promote a policy that enhances the paychecks of the Union of Rutgers Administrators-American Federation of Teachers and deliver more unnecessary changes to a school already in fiscal disrepair. The University does not have to raise tuition or fees, as long as they cut spending where it is necessary and live within their means.
Christie is now forcing lawmakers, school districts and universities to practice personal responsibility and accountability. For far too long, policymakers in New Jersey and administrators at our University figured they can give students and residents all the services they wanted, but failed to tell the people that it would come with a steep price and an empty wallet. Christie is not only cutting spending, but empowering all New Jerseyans. When was the last time a member of the government gave the people options? Christie has put the ball in the courts of unions, saying the state has no money, we are broke, I am sorry but these are the sacrifices you are going to have to make, so please put your money where your mouth is.
Finally, New Jersey government is allowing decisions to be made at the local level. For the University and the NJEA, that decision will determine how much they value education. For school boards, they will decide if cuts in state spending should result in higher property taxes or standing up to the teacher's union. Christie has promised to not sign one piece of legislation that raises taxes on the people of New Jersey and our businesses. Making New Jersey not only more affordable but producing a better business climate in order to produce real, private sector jobs that are not tied down to the government and taxpayer dollars.
Ultimately, New Jersey has a governor that is standing up to Goliath. The leaders of these public unions need to understand one thing and one thing only: They do not work for some supervisor, state legislator or executive bureaucrat, these public union members work for the people of New Jersey. They are nothing without us, and we are done with their bullying. The people of New Jersey elected Chris Christie to show these people that they can't hide in the dark anymore, you're boss is here and this time we mean business.
Aaron Marcus is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in political science and history. His column "Marcus my words" runs alternate Thursdays.