TRENTON – State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) today praised Gov. Christopher Christie, not for any moral victory but for the governor’s political savvy in making teachers the problem – even as Christie himself in part perpetuated the problem.
“He’s cut school funding dramatically but he has people thinking it’s other people who are the problem,” said Sweeney, referring to the governor’s $820 million in state cuts to education funding.
“He found a villain in the teachers, and he’s saying, ‘It’s not me, it’s these guys over here. Politically, it was a masterful job. He cut the funding to cause taxes to go through the roof, so it’s his lack of funding causing school budgets to go up. And people are angry.”
Sweeney said he doesn’t need the governor to tell him to heed the voices of the people. He’s at the gym every morning, and hears his burdened constituents.
But Christie has presented a false choice, Sweeney argues, between a year-long teachers’ wage freeze and finished budgets with tax hikes under the state cap.
“I’m taking to teachers who are taking a freeze, and you’re still laying off teachers,” Sweeney said. “Obviously , I’d rather have everyone working than no one working. But the fact remains, the teachers are absorbing the sole brunt of this governor’s cuts.”
Stirred up by Sweeney, the governor’s office issued a swift response.
“To listen to the Senate President’s logic, he takes no responsibility at all himself for the school funding mess,” said Christie Press Secretary Michael Drewniak. “It was under Democratic leadership that the Legislature and the prior governor burned through more than a billion dollars in federal education stimulus money in one year! That giant infusion of cash – without any plan on how to replace it the following year – had the effect of raising false hope that everything would – as usual – remain hunky-dory and we could just go on spending or borrowing money the next year to replace it. Well, next year is here, the Democratic leadership failed to plan ahead, and there’s no more stimulus funds, no more money in the state till or bonding capacity to carry us yet again. What we do have, finally, is a governor who is determined to have this state live within its means.
“To say we are blaming teachers is dead wrong; that’s a convenient diversion from responsibility, blame transference, the creation of a bogeyman, by those who got us into this mess in the first place. This is about finally saying enough is enough, that our leaders have caved for too long to the well-funded, monolithic teachers union. And, clearly, what the governor is saying – and that voters seemed to have stated pretty clearly yesterday – is that we are asking little to save jobs and programs. We may not be able to fill the entire hole left by that stimulus money, but asking the unions to take a pay freeze and contribute a meager 1.5 percent to their family health care costs would save a lot of teachers’ jobs and programs. To deny that is to deny reality, which is the way of Trenton.”