If the foot-dragging Democrats in the state Legislature need a starting point for passing the remainder of the governor's toolkit, we have it: A cap on labor costs.
Under Christie's proposals, the cost of salaries and benefits for public workers would be capped at 2.5% annually. The Legislature and the governor can haggle over the details - maybe place health benefits outside the cap - but a cap is crucial.
Let me repeat one of my favorite statistics regarding NJ wage costs: wages grew 162% for the average worker in NJ over the period from 1985 to 2008 (the last year data is available). For teachers, wages grew 150%.
Using this handy return rate calculator, that 162% translates into just about 4% annually; teachers are around 3.9% annually during the same period.
Given this, how can anyone support a 2.5% cap on wages and still expect high-quality workers to stay in public service professions?
"Wait!" says the S-L:
Union representatives call binding arbitration a bogeyman and predict a separate cap for teachers would make them paupers again. But it would take years for the pendulum to swing back that far - and the cap could be adjusted in better economic times.
Well, why not do that right now? Tie all teacher raises to the current wage inflation of the average NJ worker - seems fair, right? Except we would wind up paying teachers MORE than we pay them now; doesn't really solve the problem, does it?
Now, I know what the teabagging crowd says to that: "Gold-Plated Benefits!" Which is EXACTLY the point: the cost-drivers for the state are pensions and health care. And not just health care for public workers, but all public spending on health care.
A wage cap does nothing to address exploding health care costs or the pension holiday the state took for years and now must pay for. It also does nothing to fix the regressive tax system we have that has turned the state into a banana republic.
But, as looney and ineffectual as a wage cap is, "serious" people know it's something we must have.