Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Budget Debate Gets Unionized

Tomorrow, the State Assembly will attempt to override the Governor's veto of the so-called "Millionaires Tax." And the Democrats will lose that battle. But they are hoping that this will be a strategic loss in a larger war.

It seems that something akin to a Democratic party strategy is emerging. And while I'm thrilled that the majority party in the State legislature has elected to abandon its "deer-in-the-headlights" posture, I not quite sold on this new direction. Because it seems designed more to achieve political points than it is to serve the taxpayers.

So, all the Republicans in the Assembly will go on record as refusing to override the Governor's veto. From what I can make out, the idea is to tag each and every Republican with personal liability for refusing to extend the Millionaires Tax. And then to make it clear that the main objective of each plank in the Governor's platform is an anti-union one, thus turning those tags on Republicans in the Assembly into anti-union albatrosses. How will the Democrats do that?

1. The Democrats will not put the Governor's 2.5% property tax cap on the ballot this fall, and will not pass the Governor's 33 "tool kit" laws. That means that every municipality will be faced with intransigent public employee unions with no money to pay them and no new State laws to strengthen the municipalities' negotiating hands.

2. The Democrats will not move the Governor's school voucher plan forward. That means that all the extra money the Governor sent to failing public schools will stay in those public schools, and not be transferred to private schools. Which will be boon to the teachers' unions.

3. Finally, the Democrats will propose their own 2.9% cap property tax cap as an amendment to existing law, rather than a Constitutional amendment. Notably, this cap would retain the exemption for increased health care costs for public employees, to which the Governor has openly objected.

So, at the end of the day, the Democrats intend to let the Governor have his budget, but deny the Governor his victory over the unions. The Governor has been attempting to make a national name for himself as something of a union buster, and this strategy will make it more apparent to voters the extent to which Chris Christie's anti-union agenda is more important to him that is getting a vastly reduced budget.

But I can't help thinking that somehow the taxpayers are losing out here. It will be impossible to get real property tax reform unless the unions are brought to the bargaining table. The Governor's union bashing leaves the unions little option but to hunker down and wait for 2012. The Democrats' strategy allows the unions to do just that.

And the taxpayers? They just keep paying.

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