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

Monday, October 21, 2013

Star-Ledger: Christie Stinks, But We Hate Teachers Unions More

NOTE: I accidentally erased this post on 12/2/15. I retrieved it through Google Cache and have printed it with the original publishing date.

When it comes to generating illogical, incoherent, self-contradictory claptrap, Editorial Page Editor Tom Moran and his merry crew at the Star-Ledger never fail to disappoint. But their idiotic and shameful endorsement of Chris Christie for governor - a man they admit has been an abject failure in Trenton - is a new low. An embarrassment of ignorance, Moran and the S-L's endorsement proves once again that their unhinged hatred of teachers unions has clouded any sense of reason this editorial board may have once had.

The editorial, quite rightly, documents the many, many failings of Chris Christie [all emphases mine]:
Balance that against his measurable failures, and you have to conclude he is much better at politics than he is at governing.
The property tax burden has grown sharply on his watch. He is hostile to low-income families, raising their tax burden and sabotaging efforts to build affordable housing. He’s been a catastrophe on the environment, draining $1 billion from clean energy funds and calling a cease-fire in the state’s fight against climate change.
The governor’s claim to have fixed the state’s budget is fraudulent. New Jersey’s credit rating has dropped during his term, reflecting Wall Street’s judgment that he has dug the hole even deeper. He has no plan to finance transit projects and open space purchases now that he has nearly drained the dedicated funds he inherited from Gov. Jon Corzine.
His ego is entertaining, but it’s done damage as well. By removing two qualified justices from the Supreme Court without good cause, he threatened the independence of judges at all levels, and provoked a partisan stalemate that has left two vacant seats on the high court. This was a power grab gone wrong.
The public gives him top marks for his handling of Sandy, but the record is mixed. Why would his administration park NJ Transit trains in a low-lying area where they flooded, causing $120 million in damage? Why did the federal government have to strong-arm the state to include more relief for renters and Spanish-speakers than Christie had proposed? And why should anyone believe taxpayers got the best price on refuse removal when the governor awarded a no-bid contract through a political friend?
Our own view is that Christie is overrated. His spin is way ahead of his substance.
If all this is true - and it is - why in the world would the S-L ever think of endorsing Chris Christie? The only possible reason would be that his opponent, Democratic State Senator Barbara Buono, is far worse. She must have a record so bad, so truly awful, that the S-L would get behind Chris Christie, a governor they just admitted is "overrated."

What is it that earns Buono such opprobrium from Tom Moran and his posse? Surely, they would mention her worst transgression first; surely, they would cast the first stone at her for her most terrible, her most heinous, her most unforgivable sin.

True to form, they do. In the world of Tom Moran and the Star-Ledger, the most horrid crime a politician could ever perpetrate would be to side with a teachers union:
Why then, are we endorsing him for a second term? Because his challenger, state Sen. Barbara Buono, is a deeply flawed candidate.
Begin with education. Buono’s close alliance with the teachers union is a threat to the progress Christie is making in cities such as Newark and Camden. She is hostile to charter schools, which now educate nearly 1 in 4 kids in Newark.
Think about this for a minute. Moran and the S-L admit property taxes have skyrocketed under Christie, despite his claims that he's reined in taxes on the middle class. They admit Christie is waging war on the poor and the environment. They admit he is a fraud on the budget, they admit he is neglecting the state's infrastructure, they admit he has dangerously politicized the courts, they admit he is an out-of-control egomaniac, they admit he steers contracts to his political patrons, and they admit his handling of Sandy was less than admirable.

But all together, none of this matters nearly as much to the S-L as the fact that Barbara Buono has earned the support of the NJEA and AFT-NJ. This so important to Moran that he mentions it first in the list of the reasons why the S-L won't back Buono against an admittedly failed governor.

The Star-Ledger's jihad against the NJEA is a troubled and troubling obsession on the part of Moran and his editorial board. How deep must their hatred of teachers unions run that all of Chrstie's failures - failures they admit in their very endorsement of him - are swept aside so they can, once again, take a swipe at the only organizations in the state that stand for teacher workplace rights?

An authoritative national study showed that students in the charters are learning more, which explains why 10,000 Newark families are on waiting lists. Yet Buono cannot bring herself to acknowledge that the charters have helped. She sponsored a bill that would basically slam the brakes on new charters by requiring voter approval of each one. She is making a status quo argument in the face of persistent failure.
That "authoritative" study - which I have to assume is the CREDO report, because the S-L, true to form, won't actually give us the name of the study in question - says no such thing. When it comes to learning gains, charter schools are essentially a wash - when you account for student characteristics, a point that Moran pig-headedly refuses to understand. Continuing:
Buono opposes the Newark teacher contract, which freezes the pay of the worst teachers and grants bonuses to the best. She wants a traditional union deal, in which no distinction is made.
Buono supports TEACHNJ, a law which, thanks to the support of the unions, makes it much easier to fire a bad teacher. And, from all indications, the law is working. As to merit pay: the truth is that it has never worked, and the Newark deal, which is not working the way teachers were told it would, was sold to the NTU on false pretenses. Of course, if you point this out and you're a teacher, Tom Moran will call you a liar; such is his irrational hatred of anyone and anything that might stand up for teacher workplace rights and equitable teacher compensation.
She would return control of the schools to Newark, which would spell the end of Superintendent Cami Anderson’s promising stewardship.
Let's be crystal clear about this: the S-L would never, ever advocate for the loss of local control in Westfield or Sparta or Cherry Hill or Chatham or Basking Ridge. But Newark is full of poor black people, so it's perfectly fine, according to the Star-Ledger, to take away their right to self-determination.

Are you happy that this is the position of your hometown newspaper, Newark? Are you glad these self-styled journalistic crusaders think you are less deserving of your God-given rights than wealthy white people in the leafy 'burbs?
Her alliance with the unions would also threaten progress made in containing the cost of public workers. She voted against the pension and health care reform, and supports the practice of allowing public workers to accumulate pay for unused sick days. She would cap the total at $7,500, but even that reveals a mindset that is discouraging.
Go back up to the top of this post and you'll see this sentence from the first part of the S-L's endorsement:
New Jersey’s credit rating has dropped during his term, reflecting Wall Street’s judgment that he has dug the hole even deeper. 
Why is that? Why did New Jersey's credit rating drop?
New Jersey’s revenue projections for fiscal 2013 pose a “notable downside risk,” and its pension funding level will continue to deteriorate even after cost-saving changes to retirement benefits, according to Fitch Ratings.  
“While we believe the need to address revenue underperformance is important, we expect the state’s significant and growing unfunded pension and employee benefit liabilities, combined with its above-average debt burden, to remain the key challenges for New Jersey,” Fitch said in a report Thursday.
In other words: the magical savings both Chris Christie and the Star-Ledger promised through breaking promises to public workers have not materialized, and will not solve the long-term debt problems of the state. The S-L gives Buono grief for spending money on preschool, a proven strategy to improve educational outcomes. But Christie's pension obligations are much larger than any of Buono's spending plans, yet he hasn't said one word about how he's going to pay for them - and the S-L apparently couldn't care less.

This is a typical example of the free ride Christie gets from Moran, despite his weak mewling about the S-L's "deep reservations." And the reason, once again, that Moran is willing to embarrass himself and put out such an incoherent, illogical mess of an endorsement is that nearly his entire view of New Jersey policy and politics is driven by an irrational hatred of the NJEA.

I've talked more than once about the origin of Moran's hostility toward the teachers unions: he claims that one time, a former president of the NJEA said something he didn't like. Moran has never produced a transcript of that conversation, so we have no context within which to judge the alleged quote for ourselves. Instead, the man in charge of the op-ed page of the state's largest newspaper simply asks us to trust him on this matter: someone no longer in the employ of the NJEA once maybe said something so horrible that anyone running for governor who earns their endorsement must be suspect.

What an incredibly unbalanced and stupid reason to support Chris Christie. If Christie, wins, and this state falls apart in his next term, remember who lined up to give him their blessing. Remember who sided with the enemy of educators - with the man who said we teachers were acting like drug dealers. Remember who told you the good people of Newark couldn't be trusted to run their own schools. Remember who said that all the failures of Chris Christie weren't nearly as bad as earning the respect of teachers and their unions.

Then be grateful that newspapers like the Star-Ledger are dying.

The Star-Ledger Editorial Board, when presented with the facts about education "reform."

ADDING: The real shame in all this is that the Star-Ledger has had some fine reporters on the education beat over the years. Too bad they all seem to jump ship when they get the chance. What does that tell you?

ADDING MORE: Bob Braun got out of the Star-Ledger while the getting was good. And now he schools Moran on this idiotic endorsement, and we get the pleasure of watching.

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