Let me open this discussion of Governor Chris Christie’s comments on school budget elections by saying I don’t blame him for the current budget problems. More than anything else, it is the national recession hitting everyone hard. Recurrent recessions are a feature of capitalism, and the strong recession bordering on a depression is a natural consequence of the conservative movement’s (and the “moderates'”) partial dismantling of New Deal regulation, which has restored the pre-1933 instability of the financial system. It doesn’t help New Jersey much that accidents of history and geography leaves it with many citizens paying income taxes to other states. On top of that, the relative wealth of our state leaves us subsidizing the other states in the Union. Next, you can talk about mismanagement, home rule, and political decisions, and there’s plenty to talk about, but the first three factors are out of the control of any governor or legislator.
Today’s situation is certainly difficult. Contracts were often negotiated a few years ago when it looked like inflation was taking off. That hasn’t happened. Health care inflation is hitting all employers hard including the school districts while the stock market crash has damaged the pension system. Seniors on fixed income find it especially hard to pay higher property taxes. On the other hand, I strongly believe all K-12 teachers are underpaid, for the profession used to rest upon exploiting the limited job opportunities for unmarried women, and that history has lead to lower salaries than other professionals. I also think the “extras” like after school programs, sports, technology and the like are not “extras” at all but essential to education.
That said, I find Christie’s comments today to be shocking. Here’s what he said:
Gov. Chris Christie today urged voters to reject school budget proposals in districts where teachers have not agreed to a wage freeze — the majority of districts statewide….
“I just don’t see how citizens should want to support a budget where their teachers have not wanted to be part of the shared sacrifice,” Christie said at a Princeton news conference highlighting business development incentives.
I think it’s fair to say the students are being held hostage in the disputes between the Governor, the school boards, and the unions. In that complex multi-sided hostage standoff, Christie just asked the bystanders to shoot the hostages. We already have voters who routinely reject school budgets because they resent paying taxes for the public school system that has been benefiting our society for generations. To recklessly ask them to reject budgets wholesale is in my opiniona shocking tactic, especially when rejecting a budget will not release school districts from the contract their leadership willingly signed. Rejecting the budget won’t hurt most teachers directly.
I also suspect Christie’s remarks will damage schools even where agreements willbe reached. I understand that the unions in my district have accepted pay freezes, and I applaud them for that, but I believe Christie’s remarks will increase the chance that votes will reject the local budget anyway, especially since the budget includes tax increases. How many people will know the local status of contarct negotiations? Meanwhile, in my district, all those pay freezes Christie blusters about are just 0.6 million dollars, while he cut state aid by $1.3 million. So his implication that teachers are responsible is misleading at best. That Christie has awarded himself and his wealthy relatives what amounts to a tax cut makes the talk of “shared sacrifice” a bitter joke. He’s asking voters to blame the teachers and hurt the children. I think it’s unworthy of a Governor.