By Becca Fields
A budget crisis—that’s what the main-stream media are calling it. A shortfall of $800 million in THIS year’s state budget that has to be resolved by June 30, a matter of weeks. But the real crisis isn’t simply a collection of numbers on a ledger book. The real crisis is the opportunity this creates for Gov. Chris Christie’s—an opportunity for a dangerous attack on public employee unions.
Just as he did four years ago—with the help of cynical Democratic legislators—Christie will try to make unions and their members bear the brunt of the political maneuverings to try to fill that hole when most of the money available this year has been spent—or already cut to fill a hole discovered in February.
Christie cites the changes to federal government tax rates for the very wealthy resulting in much lower revenue for New Jersey than he estimated a year ago. That is the excuse for this latest revenue shortfall, but ultimately we know he will blame the costs of pensions and benefits of our public sector employees.
Christie owns responsibility for this crisis. He consistently overestimated revenues for every budget he proposed since taking office. He refuses to consider rational revenue increases. Already this year, he acknowledged a $700 million “adjustment” in revenues – that was in addition to the new shortfall of $800 million. And the changed federal tax collection that resulted in a windfall last year as people paid early would result logically in a significant decrease of those revenues this year. Anyone budgeting with honesty and vision would acknowledge this.
Mostly, Christie owns this catastrophe because it offers the perfect crisis that the Governor has waited for, or, perhaps, more likely, helped to create. It sets the stage for his final attack on public sector unions as he blames the pensions and benefits payments for the situation. Conveniently, Christie waited until the end of the fiscal year to make the required $1.67 billion payment to the pension plan.
The easiest way out of this crisis is to delay that payment until after the start of the next fiscal year. But not only will he blame the current short fall on the pension payment, but he will then begin cutting more deeply into next year’s budget to compensate for that payment. He will make sure the pain continues and the blame is put squarely on unions and their members. Within weeks, we can expect to see legislation to further chip away, not just at pensions and benefits, but at the very core of union structure. Think Wisconsin. Think North Carolina. It can happen here.
Don’t forget, his so-called “bipartisan agreement” with Democrats—known to the honest as a corrupt deal with political bosses like George Norcross—projected him on to the national political stage. Another miraculous “bipartisan agreement” with weak Democrats will help him climb out of the slime of Bridgegate and restore his weakened presidential chances.
All at the expense of unions. We may be witnessing his end game-–to destroy public employee unions once and for all. His narrative blames the state’s financial woes—not on his ineptitude, his shortsightedness, his mendacious manipulation of revenue figures—but on the alleged greed of unions. If he has not deliberately created the financial crisis to bring us to this point, he most certainly encouraged it to happen. He has every piece in place and he can see a few moves forward to checkmate.
So unions had better be ready to fight – not over whether the pension payment should be delayed, but for their very survival. We learned in 2010 that we are pretty much on our own—even Democrats can’t be trusted to stand with unin members who have their own, personal financial crises to deal with.
In unity, with one voice, unions must come to the table with a plan to move us forward out of this crisis, a plan that shares sacrifice, doesn’t simply heap it on to those who can least afford it.
Every union leader and every member must be clear about what is at stake. The very existence of public employee unions.
Becca Fields is the pseudonym for a progressive activist.