N.J. gov. sets tone for US

by
May 14, 2010

By A.B. Stoddard, The Hill

In a movie version of this important story of our time, the bold, undaunted officeholder would look much like the boyish, handsome David Cameron — Great Britain’s new Conservative prime minister — who called on his countrymen Tuesday to embrace an “age of austerity.”

But this is America. So the fearless leader willing to be honest with voters, to part with what cannot be paid for, is actually not dashing, nor is he eloquent. He is an overweight Bruce Springsteen devotee, a former prosecutor with a remaining trace of a Turnpike accent who is intent on rescuing New Jersey. If he succeeds, Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) could become a major political force in the years to come, whether he likes it or not.

As the United States watches a debt crisis in Greece like a fiscal oil spill, waiting to see where it will spread first and when it will make landfall on our shores, Christie is tackling the nation’s worst state deficit — $10.7 billion of a $29.3 billion budget. In doing so, Christie has become the politician so many Americans crave, one willing to lose his job. Indeed, Christie is doing something unheard of: governing as a Republican in a blue state, just as he campaigned, making good on promises, acting like his last election is behind him.

Upon taking office Christie declared a state of emergency, signing an executive order that froze spending, and then, in eight weeks, cutting $13 billion in spending. In March he presented to the Legislature his first budget, which cuts 9 percent of spending, including more than $800 million in education funding; seeks to privatize numerous government functions; projects 1,300 layoffs; and caps tax increases.

Teachers unions are incensed, fighting Christie’s proposal that — in order to avoid cuts to education — teachers accept a one-year wage freeze and contribute 1.5 percent to the generous-by-every-standard healthcare plans they now enjoy for free. New Jersey, which has the highest unemployment in the region and highest taxes in the country, lost 121,000 jobs in the private sector in 2009 while adding 11,300 new education jobs. During the last eight years, K-12 enrollment rose just 3 percent while education jobs increased more than 16 percent. According to the Newark Star-Ledger, during the recession that has cost many residents their homes and jobs and scaled back hours and pay for the employed, teachers’ salaries rose by nearly 5 percent, double the rate of inflation.

To read more, visit: http://thehill.com/opinion/columnists/ab-stoddard/97603-nj-gov-sets-tone-for-us

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