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Christie’s Proposals Could Lead to Rifts with Union Leaders [AUDIO]

During his budget address, Gov. Chris Christie trumpeted the idea of expanding educational opportunities, proposing $5 million in grants for schools to come up with different ideas about lengthening the school day, but he didn’t offer specifics about how the state would pay for having children in school for more hours.

Gov. Chris Christie delivers his budget address
Gov. Chris Christie delivers his budget address (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

[TONIGHT: ASK THE GOVERNOR]

Christie also spent a lot of time talking about how pension and health benefit costs for public sector workers are undercutting the state’s ability to invest in education and tax relief, and he suggested that more public worker concessions might be needed.

It sets the stage for a new round of arguments and fights between Christie and public sector union leaders.

With the Bridgegate investigation continuing to cast a dark shadow on the governor and his approval numbers dropping lately, you might imagine more controversy would be the last thing he wants. But Peter Woolley, professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University, believes just the opposite might be true.

He pointed out another showdown with union leaders — similar to the one that took place with the NJEA when teacher tenure reform was first proposed — would help to move the focus off of Bridgegate, and remind everyone that Christie is a fiscal conservative.

“The strength of this governor, and the strength of almost any good politician, is to define the conversation, not let other people do it for you,” Woolley said. “Yes, he is trying to redefine the conversation, what is it we’re talking about, because obviously it’s not to his advantage to talk about lane closures at the George Washington Bridge.”

Woolley also said he thinks “it makes sense to him, because his entire reputation has been built on fiscal conservatism, and as long as he’s going to struggle to get his numbers up again, then he’s got to go with his wheelhouse punch, even if it means going up against some strong public employee interests, trying to get pension costs and benefits under control.”

As to whether the governor accomplished what he was aiming for in the speech, Woolley said time will tell.

“A budget season is a campaign, a battle that lasts many months,” Woolley said. “We’re not going to know how successful he is, or how many scars he’s incurred until the end of June. This is just the opening skirmish.”

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