Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Fisher on What Is So Good about Christie?

My daughter, who lives in Pennsylvania and therefore doesn't know what's what, recently confronted some New Jersey Republican politicians with a question. "Governor Christie is a great politician, and I love his confrontational style. But tell me truthfully, just what has he done that's so great?" Great question, daughter, and I'm going to give you a straight answer.

In the first place, he attacked the 800 or so committees created by the legislature, and cut them down to about 300, by threatening to reveal their existence, and the hundreds of paid stipends they passed along. And then he made great strides toward a balanced budget, protecting New Jersey municipal bonds from the default, in spite of opposition majorities in both houses of the Legislature. Remember, since the biggest item in the New Jersey budget is for pensions for state employees, he's making substantial progress toward converting defined benefit pensions into defined contribution pensions. You don't need a detailed explanation of what that means, beyond knowing it would make a substantial reduction in future pension costs, as would some other reasonable suggestions, like 401(k). The IBM Corporation was the first to start such a change, and believe me the unions fought it, but now are glad they got it because it is portable. The bond markets are heavily influenced by public opinion, and the opinion became, this Christie guy is serious.

And to repeat, all this was accomplished with both houses of the Legislature controlled by the opposite party. Contrast this with the insults and misrepresentations by President Obama of his Congressional opponents. Nobody could expect much cooperation from the loyal opposition after attacks like that. Christie may have implied some threats, but he had the good sense not to project nasty insults, and remains on good terms with his opponents, in forgivably Jersey style. In fact, he gives them certain respectability they lacked before he convinced them the old ways, just couldn't continue.

And then there is the astonishing move toward wedging part of the Union movement from its former perpetual affiliation with the opposite party. Some racial and religious population groups once made the same political mistake: the Republicans wrote them off and the Democrats took them for granted. Either way, they failed to achieve the clout they were entitled to. It just isn't a smart way to behave in a democracy, and the Unions have fallen into the same trap. Or, maybe union leadership is now waking up.

The American union movement is divided into industrial unions in the private sector, and government employee unions in the public sector. The government unions are gaining members, while the industrial unions are steadily losing members, for reasons I'm too polite to mention. Give Christie credit for starting a tectonic shift with a hint to the industrial unions, implying every time the public sector got a raise, the private sector got a tax increase. In New Jersey, that hurts, because government employee unions and industrial unions are not a natural mix. After all, Christie balanced the budget without a tax increase for two successive years.

That's part of the reality in Deptford Township of Gloucester County, where Sunoco decided to get out of the refinery business. Hundreds of union members are out of a job, still facing the second highest taxes in the nation, if they continue to live there.

Originally published: Sunday, September 29, 2013; most-recently modified: Friday, May 17, 2019