Sacrifice: Only the Middle-Class Need Apply

With teachers on the ropes, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has opened another front in his ongoing campaign against public sector workers:

Governor Christie called New Jersey police and firefighters greedy and said their mass protest in Trenton on Thursday would play “absolutely zero” role in the ongoing debate over public worker benefits.

The governor, speaking during a news conference inside the State House as thousands of unionized police and firefighters rallied outside, said the unions are refusing to compromise on contracts that pay expensive benefits taxpayers can no longer afford.

“They’re choosing their own greed over the betterment of the public,” he said.

It's hard to make a direct public/private sector comparison with New Jersey's police officers and firefighters — since there aren't equivalent professions in the private sector — but you'd be hard-pressed to say that they're overpaid or "greedy." According to a 2010 analysis from the Economic Policy Institute, the average New Jersey police officer makes $75,400 per year, while the average firefighter makes $69,620 per year. New Jersey's public employees have generous benefits, but when you compare total compensation between public and private employees, private sector workers come out on top: "New Jersey public employee total compensation costs are 4.05 percent less than comparable private-sector employees." What's more, when the sample is limited to employers with 100 or more employees, New Jersey public employees cost 7.48 percent less than comparable private-sector workers.

Again, it's hard to make a direct comparison, and it's almost certainly true that some police and firefighters are paid more than some private sector workers of similar education and skill. But when you consider the danger associated with police work, that's not particularly unreasonable.

One last point: Christie's rhetoric of shared sacrifice belies his actual commitment to the concerns and interests of New Jersey's wealthiest taxpayers. In Chris Christie's New Jersey, sacrifice is reserved for teachers, firefighters, police and other middle-class workers. Millionaires, by contrast, get an exemption:

The battle to ensue is likely to shape up around the so-called millionaire’s tax, a one-year income-tax surcharge on people making more than $400,000 that Mr. Christie vowed not to renew. (Democrats allowed it to lapse in December.) If that surcharge were renewed, it would bring in close to $1 billion.

In his speech, Mr. Christie affirmed his stance on the issue, saying New Jersey’s tax burden was already the nation’s costliest. “Mark my words today: If a tax increase is sent to my desk, I will veto it,” he said.

True to his word, Christie vetoed the millionaire tax as soon as it reached his desk. As always, for the GOP, "shared sacrifice" is a code word for an agenda of union-breaking, benefit cuts, and upwards redistribution.

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