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How not to lead in New Jersey

March 17, 2011 - John Stack
I am reading a book on Abraham Lincoln, and it is mostly about his time in office. One of the topics that is discussed is General George B McClellan. History has not been kind to McClellan as he was seen as a poor leader on the battlefield during combat, and is often blamed for causing the war to be extended much longer than it should. But, the thing that strikes me the most is his refusal to accept responsibility. If a battle was lost, it was his underlings who messed up or not enough support or too much micromanaging by the president. And for a while, he was the commander of all of the Union forces! Imagine general Patreus in Iraq/Afganistan saying ‘well we can’t win anything over here. We have lost any effectiveness because one of my majors didn’t carry out his orders perfect or there weren’t enough tanks or…’. No, a good leader takes responsibility – even when he had no direct involvement. Although McClellan refused to take responsibility, even though he was intimately involved, President Lincoln DID take responsibility for the battle losses because it was he who was ultimately responsible to carry out the war plans. THIS is what a LEADER does. What does this story that happened almost 150 years ago have to do with today? Well, we have a new General McClellan – he resides in the office of the Governor of New Jersey – Chris Christie.

The following is what a leader does not do: The governor was asked yesterday if he takes responsibility for the average 4% increase in property taxes in 2010. He answered ‘absolutely not’. He of course balmed the Democrats and former Governor Jon Corzine. Although Corzine has been out of office for 18 months, he must have had that ‘invisible hand of the market’ that my buddy Adam Smith is always talking about. I guess somehow, in Christie’s sleep, Corzine convinced the gov to cut aid to schools and aid to municipalities drastically. We’ve seen what this has done locally. There has been a tremendous decrease in aid to schools in New York. What has this done? Many schools have cut to the bone, cutting their budgets drastically, but without the aid from the state that they had been receiving for decades, the tax LEVY went up. Tupper Lake is the local worst case scenario. They cut 25 percent of staff and yet still had to increase the levy by something like 8 percent! Now, Governor Corzine would of course blame the local school board for this. This is why comparing budgets and levies only works for the people who have an agenda. Some school districts and municipalities have dove into their surpluses to keep the levy down. This does nothing about the structural problems. If one district digs deep into their surpluses or rainy day funds, a 10 percent increase in the budget can turn out to be a zero levy increase! The town or school didn’t do anything better, wasn’t more efficient and may have even added unneeded items. The next town over, who has kept their rainy day funds low, and chooses not to pay down the levy with these surplus funds, may have a budget and levy increase of 5 percent and are vilified, where the other jurisdiction is praised for ‘fiscal stewardship’. Its all a game. And don’t get me started on comparing tax rates! By the way, how did governor Christie reign in the monster budget deficit last year? Oh, slipped under the rug is that he chose not to pay the State’s $3 billion dollar pension obligation. I’m thinking this year that to balance my budget, I’m going to call up Chase financial and tell them I’m not paying my mortgage this year. All my friends will wonder how I have such financial acumen that I can now easily pay for trips to Bora Bora and install a Jacuzzi out on my front porch.

But, Gov Christie gets the worst marks for his explanation as to why it isn’t his fault. This is a real live quote - "If they pass all the things that I proposed, then it’s completely my responsibility. If they don’t, then they own it," Christie said. "You can't give me part of my solution and then expect me to be responsible if the solution doesn’t work." I’m still wondering if Christie has looked up what ‘Governor’ means. Or leader. Or whiner. Or cryer. Or coward. I’ll give him that he at least acts like the last three. So, Christie asks for everything imaginable. If he doesn’t get everything he wants, he feels he can blame everything on someone else, because everyone didn’t do exactly as he asked. The chances of him getting everything he wants is almost impossible. He has set it up so that he has about a 99.9 % chance of not losing (in his estimation). Its not like he is acting like a leader and trying to get different people together and working something out. Its completely his way or the highway. NJ workers are nearing the end of their contracts. They currently pay only 1.5% towards their health insurance. Yes, that is ridiculously low. Christie has decided he will not negotiate with the state workers on benefits, and will pass a law through the legislature to have state workers pay 30 percent of their health insurance. Now, regardless of what one thinks of a correct amount to pay towards health insurance, going from 1.5% to 30% in one year is just crushing. This is for everyone. If you are a single $21,000 a year secretary with a child, its possible insurance is $12,000-$15,000. Currently she pays less than 250 dollars a year. Under Christie’s plan, she would immediately have to pay about $500 per month! Oh, I know I know. She is one of those rich state employees we hear the GOP always talking about (although they successfully convinced people that $250,000 salaries did not move someone into the ‘rich’ category during the expiration of the Bush tax cuts debate. Go figure). She can just up and get another job. She doesn’t have to stay there, right? She doesn’t have to take that increase in cost, right? Her son has a hole in his heart and needs surgery? Ahh. Bubble gum will fix that up. Her son hits his head on the concrete in her backyard and he needs xray and cats scans? PFFFT! Take some aspirin and buck up buddy!

How about a different approach? How about it is recognized that this is a ridiculous idea? How about there are other ideas? How many people will go on welfare or Medicaid because they can’t afford the insurance? This won’t help the state coffers. How about a 5 year phase in? This isn’t something that snuck in overnight that needs to be completely gutted and fixed TODAY. How about an extra 4-5% a year for 5 years? And all new employees have to pay the top amount? It would be a burden on the workers, but it is a more sane and useful approach.

Christie is no savior. He’s no leader. He, like Sarah Palin is the unfortunate byproduct of the current Tea Party paranoia and fear mongering. Ohhh how I miss Abe…


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