I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Christie's Report Card

The Star-Ledger devotes most of the op-ed section today to a "report card" on Christie's first year. Kinda silly, but instructive as to how the punditocracy views his reign.

Christie gets a "D" for transit, ethics, and personal behavior. That's too high in my opinion, given he wants his administration to look like Jerry Springer's show, but whatever. A "C" for education is ridiculous, as his "strong reform vision" is nothing more than promoting VAM and charter schools. Again, whatever: shallow understanding of educational issues is par for the course in our media. He gets a "B" for energy: I'm not conversant enough in his actions to say whether that's reasonable or not, although the global-warming skepticism should be enough to automatically push him down to at least a "C."

But it's these other grades that kill me:

An "A" for courage? Where? What courage has he shown on anything? He never takes personal responsibility: it's always Schundler's or Sweeney's or Oliver's or Obama's or the NJEA's fault. He's still running against Corzine after a year. He beats up on school superintendents and bullies teachers in town halls.

It is not courageous to complain about pensions and then refuse to fund them. It's not courageous to give a $600 million tax break to millionaires and then hide behind the ruse that it was the Legislature that cut the taxes, not him. It's not courageous to preside over yet another huge increase in health care premiums and do nothing to call insurance companies to account while demanding more money from public employees to fund those increases.

A "B" for budget? He "cut state spending by $3 billion"? What he did was push the hardest decisions, the service cuts, and the tax increases on to the cities and towns. He didn't have to make the call about gutting Newark's police force; he didn't have to decide which half of Camden's employees will get pink slips; he didn't have to tell kids their sports and extracurriculars and electives are cut while their class sizes soar.

Moran acknowledges this:
Christie’s central claim to fame — that he “fixed” the state budget — is farcical.
Here’s what he told Don Imus and his national radio and TV audience: “It was an $11 billion budget deficit on a $29 billion budget my buddy Jon Corzine left me, and we fixed it.”
He didn’t cut $11 billion in this year’s budget — it was less than $3 billion. For comparison, his buddy Jon Corzine cut nearly $2 billion the year before.
To balance the budget, as all governors must by law, Christie relied heavily on familiar one-shots like skipping pension payments and cutting property tax rebates. Next year’s budget gap is expected to be as bad as this year’s.
And let’s put to rest the notion that he didn’t raise taxes. He squeezed an extra $45 million in income taxes out of the meager paychecks of working-poor families when he cut back the earned income tax credit. It was the surtax on millionaires that he vetoed with such flair.
That's a "B"?

He also gets a "B" on pensions. Even though he skipped payments, which is what caused this mess in the first place.

So this "report card" is not a very good assessment of Christie's first year. But Moran's piece, along with this accompanying exchange between Brendan Byrne and Tom Kean, Sr., is very good at telling us what really bothers the elite.

Here's Moran:

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver was shocked when she learned that the governor had accused her of lying.
“That has irreparably affected my ability to work with this governor,” she says. “For him to cast aspersions on my integrity and say I would lie? That did it. That showed me I really cannot have a trusting relationship with this governor. Because he will distort the truth. He will stand up and lie.
“It was a game changer for me, a total game changer.”
And that brings us to the dark side of Chris Christie — the arrogant streak that poisons the conversation and creates blood feuds for no good reason. He treats politics as if it were professional wrestling, pounding his chest after every knee-drop.
It turns out that Christie was flat-out wrong about Oliver. The dispute was a petty one. Oliver had said she tried to arrange a meeting with the governor to discuss salary caps, and Christie claimed she was lying. He must not have known she had written proof — text messages seeking a meeting.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because Christie also accused Bret Schundler, his first education commissioner, of lying. And Schundler, too, produced written evidence to support his story.
U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg felt this sting as well. After he criticized the governor for killing the Hudson River tunnel project, the governor lashed out.
“All he knows how to do is blow hot air,” Christie said. “So I don’t really care what Frank Lautenberg has to say about much of anything.”
This is the downside of the governor’s straight talk. He has to work with Oliver and Lautenberg, like it or not. And now they both seem to hate his guts.
“Look, I worked with Tom Kean and Christie Whitman, and had no problems,” Lautenberg says. “This is really unusual. There’s been hardly any communication from his office, and I’m on the Appropriations Committee. I put my heard and soul into this, and to have someone calling me names and trying to shame me? It’s incomprehensible.”
The governor raised eyebrows, too, when his acting education commissioner broke tradition by refusing to speak with thousands of teachers who had gathered in Atlantic City for the union convention.
His tiff with the union leadership, which started as a reasonable proposal for a temporary pay freeze, has gone psycho. Now, he is dissing regular classroom teachers.
Lots of ink about Christie dissing Oliver, Lautenberg, Schundler... and a little peep about dissing teachers.

Kean and Byrne:

Q. How about education?
BYRNE: Until he works out a modus operandi with the teachers union, I have to give him a B-minus or a C. Teachers aren’t bad people. He has to learn to work with them.
KEAN: I’d probably give him a B-plus. He wants more charter schools, evaluation of teachers — he’s really in sync with the Obama administration in terms of education reform. He’s gone to war with the union over some issues, but I think he understands the contribution so many great teachers are making. He has policy battles with the union, but that’s very different than not supporting great teachers. Hopefully, the union will find ways to work with this governor.
Q: Finally, how would you grade his personal style?
BYRNE: Christie has established his image as a guy you can’t compromise with or insult. But Frank Lautenberg was upset at being called a windbag by the governor. I would urge the governor to be more generous in his evaluations of people, where he doesn’t have to be unpleasant. I give him an F on his beef with Lautenberg, but a B overall.
KEAN: Christie’s a Jersey guy — brash, outspoken, controversial. From time to time, he’s gone too far, using strong language about Bret Schundler and Frank Lautenberg. But what you see is what you get. We like that in New Jersey. Overall, it’s like looking at a report that’s nearly all A’s, with a couple of D’s. On this subject, I’d give him a B. 
 So, there you have it: when you use harsh language with powerful people, you are crossing the line = you get a "D."

When you compare teachers to drug dealers and shout them down at town hall meetings... well I guess that part of having a "refreshing" style of "what you see is what you get." "A's" all around!

Also: Kean's comments about the teachers union are absurd. Christie is not "supporting great teachers" when he proposes huge increases in medical insurance and pension contributions. And the disgRace To The Top fiasco proved he doesn't care about working with the NJEA on policy (refusing to appoint an NJEA rep to the teacher quality task force confirms this).

The NJEA already proved it is willing to work with Christie: they had a deal with Schundler that gave in to most of Christie's policy goals. It's not up to them to "find ways to work with the governor" - they did, and he still rejected them.

And no one should be so naive as to believe he's going to give in. We are at an impasse for the next three years, and it's all on Christie.

No comments: