By Jamey Dunn
New Jersey and Illinois have a lot in common: massively underfunded pension systems, widespread teacher layoffs and gaping budget holes.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie seems to be a role model of sorts for state Sen. Bill Brady, the Republican gubernatorial candidate who mentions Christie often when pressured on how he will make his budget plans a reality. Christie came to Illinois today to stump for Brady on a statewide tour, and he talked about the harsh similarities the two states share.
“With New Jersey facing many of the same challenges that Illinois is facing — unemployment high taxes and overspending — Gov. Christie has proven that you can balance the budget without raising taxes,” Brady said as he introduced the governor.
Christie, who took office facing an $11 billion deficit, defended the lack of specifics in Brady’s budget plan, saying he did not detail specific cuts “as if I’m a CPA putting together a ledger” when he was running for office. He said people want more general information.
“The same things were being hurled at me a year ago right now. Democrats, some members of the press, were saying I wasn’t being specific enough,” Christie said. “What the people of Illinois need to know is what direction is the governor going to take them in. … Telling people that you’re going to cut the size of government, cut taxes, and I know he’s laid out specifically which ones he wants to cut — I think that’s a pretty good idea for voters to make a decision on.”
Christie added that if he had made specific statements, he would have gone back on them once he got into office and discovered the full scope of the state’s budget problems.
Brady has suggested that one way to save money in local school districts without layoffs would be to ask teachers to forgo raises that are built into their pay scales. He has mentioned New Jersey as a model for such a plan. However, Christie said negotiations with teacher’s unions in his state fell through and resulted in layoffs.
“It’s a pretty sad example of a public sector union who simply doesn’t get it,” Christie said. “I would hope, after watching what’s happened in New Jersey, the teachers union in Illinois would step up to the plate and say, ‘Hey we’re going to be part of the shared sacrifice.’”
Christie also said that reducing pension benefits for current state employees should be on the table in Illinois. Most observers agree that any changes to current employee benefits would require a constitutional amendment.
Gov. Pat Quinn’s campaign fired back at Brady's and Christie’s claims that Brady is proposing the right things to address the deficit in his state.
“If you want to get a picture of Bill Brady’s Illinois, you need look no further than New Jersey. Chris Christie laid off nearly 10 percent of the state’s teachers, eliminated property tax relief for the middle class, cut public transit funding and skipped $3.1 billion in pension payments — hurting working families and costing taxpayers billions in the long term to pay for his own budget shortcuts. At the same time, he granted billions in tax breaks to corporations,” Mica Matsoff, a Quinn campaign spokesperson, said in a written statement.
Christie said Brady can live up to his claim of balancing the budget in a year if he is willing to make difficult decisions.
“We cut every department of state budget — every one of them. … Real spending was cut 9 percent year over year. This is serious medicine that has to be given when you want to close that kind of hole.”
Brady also brushed aside several recent polls that say Quinn has narrowed Brady’s lead to single digits. “We’re confident in our strategy and the fact the we are building momentum. We care deeply about one poll, and that’s the poll on November 2,” he said.
Brady said internal campaign polls show his support is growing. “I will tell you that we’d just as soon our supporters thought this was a dead heat and make sure that we get our supporters out. And make sure the voters get out, so we don’t take anything for granted.”