Defending reform efforts
Andrew Kristiansen | Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Dear Mr. Bangs,
I read your Letter to the Editor “Christie isn’t helping” on Nov. 14, and I feel it ignores crucial facts regarding our state’s educational system.
You first claim that Governor Christie “began his tenure with a vicious attack on schoolteachers […] as overcompensated.” The governor has consistently remarked that his rhetoric is aimed at the leadership of the teachers’ union.
Second, he claims that because teachers earn a solid middle class salary, they could contribute more to their benefits. According to Census data from 2009, New Jersey teachers earned an average salary of $63,100 per year, which is 22.9 percent above the national average of $51,400.
Consequently, New Jersey teachers are the fourth highest paid in the nation. This leads me to the real focus of Governor Christie’s reform efforts, pension and healthcare benefits.
This past summer, a Democratic State Assembly and Senate passed sweeping public employee reforms.
Teachers must now pay 7.5 percent into their pensions up from 5.0 percent. Additionally, the retirement age for new teachers increased to 65, up from 60. Health benefits will be paid for in a tiered system based on a teacher’s salary. These reforms tackled the $120 billion unfunded and unsustainable liability New Jersey taxpayers were facing in coming years.
You respond that the Governor should have raised taxes in response to this shortfall, but this ignores the fact that New Jersey residents already face some of the highest state and local taxes in the country. In 2010, the average property tax bill was $7,281, the highest in the nation. Raising taxes would hurt middle class workers, such as teachers, the most.
The governor has been called a bully, deemed too blunt and overly harsh and even compared to Hitler by a national union leader. Yet, all of this ignores that as of this September, 54.0 percent of New Jersey voters approved of his performance.
Governor Christie merely disputes that there is a more affordable approach to New Jersey’s excellent educational system. His reforms reflect his pragmatic approach to governing, an approach that makes union benefits fiscally sustainable in a way our country’s politicians often fail to do.