Monday, June 14, 2010

The Christie Brand

Monday's Wall Street Journal ran an interesting piece on Chris Christie. It seems our Governor is making a name for himself by being one of the most anti-union leaders in the nation. Apparently, the Governor's penchant for referring to "mindless, faceless union leaders" has not gone unnoticed.

Understanding that union-busting is the issue on which the Governor seeks to stake his reputation is key to any attempt to understand the Governor's actions and priorities. Just ask Bret Schundler, who dared to compromise with the New Jersey Education Association on merit pay and tenure.

Using this "union-buster" image as a lens, certain aspects of the Governor's proposed Constitutional amendment that would cap property tax increases at 2.5% annually, using Massachusetts as an example, leap to the foreground. First, let us pause to consider the irony of a conservative Republican using Massachusetts as an example for anything. Then, let us consider the statements of Governor Christie's detractors who say that in 1980, when Massachusetts adopted its cap, state unemployment was at 5.8%, nowhere near the current New Jersey rate of 9.8%. And that the Massachusetts economy was growing at the time. Finally, let's remember that the State recently passed a 4% cap on property tax increases which is beginning to show results.

The Governor acknowledges that Cap 2.5 will cause a lot of pain to municipalities across the State, especially so in light of the state of the economy. To soften the anticipated blow, the Governor has devised a "tool kit" for local governments. And a big piece of the tool kit is giving municipalities the ability to bust unions. The tool kit would restore the ability of municipalities to bind unions to a "last, best" offer in negotiations after all attempts at mediation have failed. And the tool kit allows municipalities to opt out of civil service laws.

So, while Cap 2.5 is aimed at reducing property taxes, the clear subtext is to undermine public employee unions. Because reducing the State budget without raising taxes is not enough to build a national reputation for Chris Christie. Any tea-party courting far right Governor can do that. The Governor needs to imprint the plan with his "brand" -- Chris Christie, union buster.

Oh, and the existing 4% property tax cap? Governor Christie says that that cap allows for too many exemptions. Like exemptions for money to provide public employees with better benefits.

And after all, the Governor has a reputation to keep.

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