Nearly 3,000 miles from Trenton, Gov. Chris Christie couldn’t pass up an opportunity to knock his predecessor, Jon Corzine.
The Republican governor appeared Aug. 9 at a campaign event in Bellevue, Wash., for GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna. Christie told the crowd public-sector union workers should pay their fair share toward pension and health benefits, and then criticized Corzine for giving away raises.
"My predecessor's first negotiation with the public-sector unions, he gave away 14 percent raises over 4 years and he stood on the front steps of the Capitol at a public-sector union rally and said, 'I will fight to get you a great contract,’" said Christie, according to a video posted on YouTube.
Corzine, a Democrat, did approve contracts providing 13 percent in raises over a four-year period for state workers. Corzine also spoke at a union rally where he vowed to "fight" for public employees, according to several news reports.
But Christie’s criticism that Corzine "gave away" those raises ignores the fact that the contracts included a number of union concessions.
First, let’s explain the events leading up to that union rally.
For the first budget of his tenure, Corzine in 2006 proposed increasing the sales tax to help cover a budget shortfall. The governor also called for increasing the contribution to the state’s pension system.
But instead of the tax hike, some Democratic legislators called for state worker unions to accept salary or fringe benefit givebacks. Another proposal was scaling back the proposed pension payment.
On June 19, 2006, thousands of public employees rallied outside the Statehouse to show support for Corzine’s plan. According to several news reports, the governor made comments at the union rally similar to those cited by Christie.
Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine and Gannett New Jersey columnist Bob Ingle both quoted Corzine as saying, "We're gonna fight for a fair contract." The New York Times quoted the governor as saying, "I will fight for you."
The final budget included the sales tax increase and a smaller pension contribution.
Now, we’ll address the raises mentioned by Christie.
Eight months after that union rally, the Corzine administration reached a deal with the largest state workers union for a new four-year agreement. Two other unions later agreed to similar deals. Those contracts, which went into effect in July 2007, provided a total of 13 percent in raises for each union.
However, by claiming Corzine "gave away" those raises, Christie failed to mention a number of union concessions built into the contracts.
For example, union workers agreed for the first time to contribute 1.5 percent of their salaries each year toward the cost of health benefits. The contracts also increased employees’ annual pension contributions by 0.5 percent.
In response to our findings, Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said in part:
"For goodness sake, the fix was in for that fight, and Jon Corzine was taking a ‘fall’ in the first round. Who was representing the taxpayers? Where was the adversarial collective bargaining relationship? And, finally, how many people do any of us know got those kinds of raises in those years? It was a ‘giveaway’ in the fullest sense, and that’s exactly what Governor Christie was saying."
At a campaign event in Bellevue, Wash., Christie said Corzine "gave away 14 percent raises over 4 years and he stood on the front steps of the Capitol at a public-sector union rally and said, 'I will fight to get you a great contract.’"
Corzine did authorize four-year contracts with a total of 13 percent in raises, and vowed to "fight" for public employees at a union rally. But Christie’s criticism ignores how the contracts included certain union concessions.
We rate the statement Mostly True.
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