Christie: Defeat budgets if teachers reject wage freezes

In this Tuesday, April 6, 2010 photo, Gov. Chris Christie answers questions posed by fourth-graders at John Hill School in Boonton, N.J. Gov. Christie spoke to the children and also gave a news conference on the Boonton school district's budget. ((AP Photo/Daily Record, Karen Mancinelli))

April 13, 2010 3:03:19 PM PDT
The teachers in Montclair are some of the very few statewide who have agreed to Governor Christie's wage freeze challenge.

Now the Governor is urging voters to reject school budgets in towns where he says teachers aren't, quote, sharing the sacrifice.

Governor Christie's 'wage freeze challenge' hasn't inspired many teachers to reconsider their pay. On CNBC's Squawk Box, the Governor blasted the teachers union for being out-of-step with the economic reality, for demanding 4 or 5 percent annual raises in the middle of a recession.

"I love the public schools, but the fact of the matter is that there is excess there and there is greed there that we simply can't allow to go forward," Christie said.

Of the 590 school districts in New Jersey, 142 have introduced some kind of wage freeze or reduction, but it's mostly support staff and administrators accepting the cuts. Teachers in just 20 districts took a wage freeze, amounting to just 3 percent participation statewide.

"They see this as a slippery slope that people would need to go down," Professor Brigid Harrison of Montclair State University said.

Governor Christie has promised districts struggling with massive budget cuts that he'll return the difference in payroll taxes if they agree to a one-year pay freeze.

"We've laid out there how this can be done and it would avoid teacher layoffs and it would avoid program cuts and they just don't want to hear it," Christie said.

But with such low participation among teachers, Harrison wonders if Christie won't end up being blamed when property taxes rise to make up the shortfall.

"When local municipalities raise taxes, people are going to blame the Governor," he said.

The Governor has asked voters in towns where teachers haven't agreed to a wage freeze to reject school budgets on April 20. We'll know in a few weeks if voters are more likely to follow his advice than the teachers have been.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Do you agree with the governor?

"Everyone is giving something up and the people who suffer are the kids," Penny Patnaude said.

Christie's education chief seems to disagree over whether voters should reject local school budgets because teachers haven't agreed to a yearlong wage freeze.

Education Commissioner Bret Schundler said wage concessions from teachers shouldn't be the basis for voting down school budgets on April 20. His comments were made before the Senate Budget Committee Tuesday

"I think what the governor was trying to say is that he understands how voters are going to feel if they are looking at the possibility of a property tax increase of, say, 5 percent, and they're being asked to sacrifice to avoid layoffs," Schundler said. "Some of them will feel, 'well, why should I, if the teachers aren't willing to sacrifice for their own peers?"'

The administration said there was no contradiction between Christie's position and Schundler's. Christie spokesman Mike Drewniak said the governor would respect the will of the voters, no matter what they decide.