Republican gubernatorial candidate Christopher J. Christie says the state's 200,000-member teachers union is distorting his education policies, but the teachers say he needs to do some homework on his own positions to learn why they're attacking him.
The New Jersey Education Association said Christie's call to cut income and property taxes translates into education-funding cuts. But Christie has said he would keep education funding at current levels.
His campaign is fuming over a recent spate of mailings to teachers, a TV ad, and word that the union's political action committee reserved TV ad time for future attacks.
"The NJEA is distorting Chris' positions. They're hammering away at what he hopes to achieve for education and for a better, more sound budget situation for generations to come," said State Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R., Monmouth), Christie's campaign chairman. He called the NJEA's recent ad campaign "real bare-knuckles distorted political advertising."
Steve Wollmer, NJEA spokesman, said that on top of tax cuts, Christie's support of vouchers and charter schools also would take money away from public schools.
"You can't run public education without resources," Wollmer said.
Christie has said that vouchers and charter schools should be alternatives for children in failing public schools, adding that the state was paying too much money for poor results.
The bickering between Christie and the NJEA started in the primary, when Christie declined to meet with the union for its endorsement.
By drawing attention to the current dispute, Christie is trying to "woo supporters who view negatively the impact that the cost of paying teachers' salaries and benefits have had on the state's budget," said Montclair University political scientist Brigid Harrison.
She said Christie might have opened himself to the attacks.
"The lack of specificity and the vagueness of his proposals leaves open for interpretation and innuendo the potential implications of his policies," she said.
But Maria Comella, Christie's campaign spokeswoman, said the teachers union was making broad assumptions, including a claim that he would cut teacher pensions.
Christie has not said he would cut public-worker pensions. He has said he wanted new state employees to go into an employee-contribution program rather than a defined benefit-retirement plan. He did not include public-school teachers in that proposal, Comella said.
Christie's supporters bristle at charges that his plans are vague, saying Gov. Corzine has not fleshed out his own plans for a possible second term.
When Corzine skipped an editorial board meeting with Gannett Newspapers yesterday, GOP chairman Jay Webber said the governor was being hypocritical.
"For a guy who goes after his opponent ad nauseam for no specifics, to consciously avoid an opportunity to give specifics with his opponent in the room is bad form and bad for the campaign," said Webber.
But Sean Darcy, Corzine's communications director, said the governor had a scheduling conflict.
Corzine passed up a televised debate to be sponsored by the League of Women Voters and a radio debate with 101.5 FM. The three candidates - Corzine, Christie, and independent Chris Daggett - are scheduled for a televised debate Friday.
The NJEA, with a largely Democratic membership, endorsed Corzine in this race. It has supported former Gov. Thomas H. Kean, a Republican, and sat out both of former Republican Gov. Christie Whitman's races.