By AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech
The budget speech given on Tuesday by Governor Christie clearly illustrates his priorities – including disproportionately shifting the tax burden away from businesses and the wealthy, and onto New Jersey’s middle class and most vulnerable.
The clearest indication of this is letting the surcharge on the wealthiest New Jersey residents expire, while scaling back the earned income tax credit for the working poor. Reducing unemployment benefits for those most adversely impacted by the economic downturn while simultaneously relaxing the level of contributions to the fund by corporations and business also illustrates this; as does his actions to again fail to contribute any money to the pension system.
By not funding the pension system at the state level, the obligation is being passed down to local governments to pay for the state share. This is a tax on towns throughout New Jersey. Short changing the pension systems does not save money, it simply defers costs. Blaming government for New Jersey’s fiscal problems does not recognize that New Jersey, like every other state, is in the midst of the worst global economic downturn since the great depression. Balancing the budget by imposing financial hardship on the middle class and working poor are not acceptable solutions.
The Governor’s call to allow local governments to opt-out of civil service is an outrage. For decades, the civil service system has promoted equal opportunity for workers who seek public employment. It also ensures that government jobs are not prone to patronage and politics, which often leads to abuse and squanders tax dollars.
The Governor’s claim that we need to make “management of our towns better and more professional” by eliminating civil service is a personal insult to every public employee. These workers are dedicated and professional public servants, and to be treated with this level of disrespect from the Governor is unacceptable. In regard to personnel costs, money could be saved by reforming the way municipal attorneys, engineers and other contracts are awarded. These contracts should be based upon competitive bidding and testing.
The Governor has recommended unspecified privatization of services. Privatization has a torrid history of waste and mismanagement in New Jersey, and this was illustrated during the Whitman Administration. Privatization does not save tax dollars in the long run. The private sector is not a “cure all,” and increasing corporate profits while sacrificing good public jobs does nothing for taxpayers. New Jersey has tried this, it has failed, and the services were returned to the public sector.
The Governor has also proposed 1,300 layoffs; and if a 2.5% cap is implemented without addressing the root causes of high property taxes first, that 1,300 will balloon into thousands more as local governments lay-off employees to be in compliance with the restrictions.
Furthermore, we need to reform the inefficiently run State Health Benefits Plan and the way we pay for health care. The double-digit increases in the cost of health care are not affordable. The plan needs to implement bulk purchasing of pharmaceuticals, which will help reduce costs, as recommended by the Public Employee Benefits Task Force, Recommendation #32.
Underfunding our state’s educational system with massive cuts to aid is a disservice to students. These reductions will be felt in every school throughout the state, including colleges and universities, hurting our children’s education and increasing class sizes. Even during these difficult economic times, proper education funding must be a priority.
New Jersey has a long and proud tradition of collective bargaining and this should remain as the main avenue for discussing issues impacting New Jersey’s public employees. The Governor’s disdain for workers and their unions, and the heated rhetoric directed toward them, will not help solve our problems.
On behalf of the one million members of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, members that teach our children, staff our transportation systems and maintain our roads, provide care for the sick and needy, construction workers that build our infrastructure, police and fire fighters that keep us safe, cafeteria workers in state institutions, and hundreds of other professions; we are deeply disheartened and disappointed by Governor Christie’s budget proposal. These men and women across our state simply want to work a good job and earn a living, and many of them do it with the help of a union and a collective bargaining agreement. Discrediting these workers is an assault on our middle class. The New Jersey State AFL-CIO calls on the legislature to join with us to fight on behalf of the middle class and reject these proposals.
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