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, January 30, 2011

Time To Feed the Base?

I've been waiting for this for some time: Chris Christie is starting to figure out that he can't keep withholding money from the towns that elected him in the first place.

So he's floating the idea of changing the school aid formula, apparently in the hope his base gets some dough back to their own communities. And his cronies in the Senate have their own scheme for shifting money away from the Abbotts and back to the wealthier towns - this time by gutting preschool.

I've said before that I thought Christie's very personal animus toward the NJEA was best expressed in how poorly he has been treating the towns that got him elected in the first place. He was willing to have hundreds of towns struggle last year with layoffs and budget cuts and higher property taxes just to make a point to the teachers union.

Well, maybe he's wised up. Or maybe he had a Machiavellian scheme already worked out: starve the 'burbs for a year, then ride to their rescue with state aid that's smaller than a few years ago but still better than nothing. I started out thinking this was the plan, but then changed my mind when I saw how impetuous the guy is - he doesn't seem like the guy who plans anything.

Now I just don't know.

In any case, it's a very dangerous game he's playing: if he doesn't deliver any aid to the 'burbs for yet another year, I think his base is going to be really, really pissed off. And he may not be able to: he doesn't have the court he wants (yet), and the Legislature may put up a fight. Further, the amount of aid the towns get back may not be enough to stop the program cuts wealthy towns never thought they'd ever have to consider: sports, arts, electives, full-day kindergarten, etc. The soccer moms (and dads) will never forgive him for that.

Further, if he tries this, we may not see this sort of stuff anymore:

I tried to warn you, Corey: he will stab you in the back if he thinks it'll be good politics. Newark is sure to get screwed if this goes through; will you look good doing more photo-ops with him if that happens?

Of course, there is still plenty of blame to be shoveled out over the teachers, and we'll no doubt be hearing lots about "Cadillac health plans" and "unsustainable pensions" in the coming months. But I think (well, maybe "hope" is the better word) that even that argument is starting to wear a little thin. The stupid attacks and town hall videos have backfired more than a bit, except among the faithful. And it's pretty obvious that trashing tenure and adding a few more charters schools isn't going to reduce anyone's property taxes very much, if at all.

People want solutions that directly affect their lives and/or their pocketbooks and they want them now. Christie didn't deliver any last year; can he survive another year of inaction?

I doubt it.

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