The financial situation in New Jersey is dire, and Governor Chris Christie isn’t mincing words:
In an amazingly candid appraisal of the sorry state of affairs in New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie laid it on the line in a speech to about 200 mayors at the New Jersey League of Municipalities.
The speech is 24 minutes long and well worth a listen because it is both an honest admission of the problem, and a refreshingly accurate appraisal of what the solutions are. He chastised the legislature, unions, municipalities, and affordable housing initiatives while promising to do something about all of those
You can watch the whole speech here, but here’s a partial transcript:
People did not send me here to talk, the people sent me here to do. So we took the executive action we did to stop the bleeding.
As we move forward, and we evaluate what we need to do three weeks from now in our fiscal year 2011 budget address, you all need to understand the context from which we operate.
Our citizens are already the most overtaxed in America. US mayors hear it all the time. You know that the public appetite for ever increasing taxes has reached an end.
So when we freeze $475 million in school aid, I am hearing the reverberations from school boards saying now you are just going to force us to raise taxes.
Well there is a 4% cap in place as you all know, yet school boards continue to give out raises which exceed that cap, just on salary. Not to mention the fact that most of them get no contribution towards the spiraling increase in health care benefits.
Now, we are going to reduce spending at the state level. And we are going to continue to reduce it because we have no choice but to do so. Our obligation to you is twofold. One, is to let you know that. So I’m’ letting you know that.
Second to work with the legislature to give you the tools helping you to reduce spending at the municipal level. Now the pension and benefit reform package that was passed unanimously in the senate this week begins to give you some of those tools.
But it is only a beginning.
Do we need to change some of the rules of arbitration to level the playing field to allow municipalities and school boards to have a more level sense of collective bargaining?
I think the evidence of ever increasing raises being given to public sector workers as a result of the arbitration system tells us that we do. [Applause From Mayors]
But you have to stand up and give the support to the legislators in this building to get them to do that. I can guarantee you this, that more pension and benefit reforms which I will consider arbitration reform to be one of them, are things that when they come to my desk, they will be signed. [Applause From Mayors]
Because we can no longer continue on a path where we say we are going to reduce spending at the state level but we are not going to give you any tools to do that at the municipal level and the school board level.
I heard someone in the legislature say two days ago that they wanted no fare hike in New Jersey Transit, no cuts in service, and no cuts in subsidy. And I was thinking to myself, man I should have made this guy treasurer. [Laughter] Because if you can pull that one off, you’re obviously magic.
This is the type of awful political rhetoric that people sent me to this city to stop.
I would love to be able to do that, but I can’t. I would love to tell you that municipal aid will stay level, but it’s not. And it’s not because we don’t have the money. So you need to prepare. You need to prepare for what’s coming down the line because we have no choice but to do these things.
And so we need to get honest with each other. In this instance, the political class,for which unfortunately all of us are a member of, the political class is lagging behind the public on this. The public is ready to hear that tough choices have to be made. They’re not going to like it. Don’t confuse the two. But they are ready to hear the truth.
In fact, they find it refreshing to hear the truth.
They are tired of hearing, don’t worry I can spare you from the pain, because they have been hearing that for a decade, as we have borrowed and spent and taxed our way into oblivion.
We have done every quick fix in the book that you can do. And now we are left, literally holding the bag.
Leadership should be about making tough decisions. I’m not hear to tell you that anything you are going to have to do as mayors, council people will be easy. But I firmly believe after spending the last year traveling around the state of New Jersey, talking to regular citizens, that this is what they are expecting us to do.
They are also expecting us to ferret out waste and abuse. But they also know that old song that waste and abuse is going to balance the budget is an old and tired one, and it’s not going to.
We need to understand we are all in this together. And you know, all of you know in your heart, what I am saying is true. You all know that these raises that are being given to public employees of all stripes, we cannot afford. You all know the state cannot continue to spend money it does not have. And you all know that the appetite for tax increases among our constituents has come to an end.
And so the path to reform and success is clear. We know what it is. We just have to have the courage to go there. What we are doing is showing people that government can work again for them, not for us. Government has worked for the political class for much too long.
There’s no time left. We have no room left to borrow. We have no room left to tax. So we merely have room left now, to do this. We are all reaching the edge of a cliff. And it reminds me a bit of that part of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where the had a seminal decision to make. So what did they do? They held hands and they jumped off the cliff.
We have to hold hands at every level of government, state county, municipal, school board. We have to hold hands and jump off the cliff.
I firmly believe we will land and we will be fine. It does not mean it will not be a scary ride on the way down. And it does not mean there won’t be moments of fear and moments of apprehension.
We are going to make the leap because that’s what people elected me to do. We are going to make the leap because it is the responsible thing to do. We are going to make the leap and we are going to do it together because that is what leadership demands for us. That is what the responsibility of the offices we hold requires of us.
Forget about the next election. Forget about the next editorial in the newspaper, and forget about the next angry letter or phone call you are going to get from someone who wants something for nothing.
One thing is certain. The alternative will lead to certain defeat. And so it is time for us to show courage, and resolve. And we can do it because we are from New Jersey. And I have never, in all my travels around the country, met a group of tougher people than we all have the opportunity to lead.
Wow, just wow.
When was the last time you heard any politician talk like this at any level of government ?
I hope Christie has the guts and the support that he’s going to need to jump off that cliff, because if he does he’ll be a model for every other Republican in the country.