Governor Chris Christie gives remarks to the Manhattan Institute at The Plaza in New York. Part 3 of 4. May 25th, 2010. (Transcript Below)
...when you look at what happens in health benefits that's just one good example.
This union has decided that everyone they represent is entitled to free medical, dental, and vision benefits for themselves and their families from the day they are hired until the day they die. That is—you may think I'm exaggerating, but I am not. In the main in New Jersey neither the members nor their union pays a penny towards their health care, not a penny, and that's a pretty sweet deal, and I can't think of any other job where the employer says well, listen, don't worry about your health insurance. We'll just throw that in no matter what it costs and in fact pick whatever plan you like. In fact, take the most expensive one. We won't even give you a choice. Let's take the Cadillac plan and give it to you.
I don't understand why the teacher's union doesn't understand that while everybody else in New Jersey and across the country is paying for a part or all of their health insurance that we should have to pay for all of theirs. It simply doesn't make common sense. It's a question of fairness. I'm not asking them to pick up 100% of the premiums. I'm not even asking them to pick up 50% of their premiums. In fact I've not even asked them to pick up 25% of their premiums, even though that's what I paid as a federal employee and all federal employees pay 25% of premium across the entire country. I'm not even asking them for 10%. I asked them to pay 1.5% of their salary towards their health benefits, 1.5%. Now for the average teacher that makes $55,000 a year in New Jersey we're talking about $825 annually for full family medical, dental, and vision coverage. That's less than $69 a month. Now in the private sector this is a deal that employees would run each other over to get. The response of the teacher's union? This is the gravest attack on public education in the history of the world.
Now see I don't get this, because I don't understand why my child will learn better if they have the comfort of knowing that their dear teacher is paying nothing towards their health benefits. I can't imagine your child coming home and saying I can't study. I'm overwrought with anxiety. Why? Why are you overwrought with anxiety? My teacher has to pay 1½% of their salary for their health benefits. Come on Dad. Buck up. You pay it for them. I mean this is ridiculous. It's laughable, yet you have the head of the teacher's union on Saturday standing up at this rally saying we are not the problem. There have never been more incorrect words spoken in front of the Statehouse in Trenton and that is a high bar ladies and gentlemen, a high bar, because I believe that most teachers, most teachers become teachers because they find it so rewarding. They want to make a good living. They want to have financial security just like all the rest of us, but the difference between zero and 1.5% is not going to cause a dedicated teacher to leave the profession. It's not going to stop a kid in college who wants to be a teacher from joining the profession. I think when the union makes that argument they sell their members and their profession extraordinarily short, and they may do that but I'm not going to. I'm going to challenge teachers to be a part of the solution and to challenge their union, and we've had mixed success at that so far but it doesn't mean I'm going to stop, so we need to give mayors and school board members the ability to negotiate a full menu of health benefits that folks can choose from at varying costs with varying kinds of coverage. Now this isn't revolutionary. It happens as you know in the private sector every day. It's happening with federal employees.
Why should state and local government workers in New Jersey have a better deal than federal employees? They're all government workers, and federal employees seem to be doing just fine by paying that portion of their benefits. This is just restoring some common sense to a totally out of control system, and if you wonder how much it cost this year alone in New Jersey's budget, $823 million on retiree health benefits alone, $823 million just on retiree health benefits, and you have the teacher's union complaining about my $820 million cut to K-to-12 education. Well, much of that cut wouldn't be necessary if people would start contributing towards their own health benefits like it's done in the rest of the civilized world outside of New Jersey.
Pension reform is also necessary, and we've passed some pension reform already in New Jersey as it applies to future employees, but we need to get to the problem of present employees...