Try to talk to worried New Jersey state employees about possible job cuts and you get this: "Oh, I really don't have anything to say about it," said one unidentified worker. "I prefer not, thank you," said another
But talk to their boss, Governor Chris Christie, and he'll tell you that he may have to layoff workers, or privatize their jobs in order to plug the leaks in the budget he's putting together for the next fiscal year that starts July 1.
"Jon Corzine ran this government into the ground," Republican Christie said of his Democratic predecessor, as he described the deals Corzine made with the public worker unions.
With Corzine long gone, Christie is now turning on those same unions.
"It is typical of public service workers in New Jersey to be blind to everything we see around us," Christie said. And, he added, "our state is in extraordinary crisis."
Christie accused Corzine of putting "handcuffs" on his ability to trim state worker payrolls: A deal worked out a year ago called for state workers to give up two weeks pay, and defer a pay hike in return for a guarantee of no layoffs.
But now the pay hikes are coming due, for some employees as much as 11% according to the governor. That's why he signed an executive order for a hurry-up study of privatizing some state jobs, with the report due by the end of May. And he signaled that when Corzine's "handcuffs" come off on January 1, he will look again at layoffs.
The union reaction?
"He hasn't said anything to us. He hasn't spoken to us, we've sent him two letters," observed Hetty Rosenstein of the powerful Communications Workers of America union.
In his call for privatization, Governor Christie named a lobbyist and former congressman, Dick Zimmer, to head the study. That raised fears among some of cronyism and patronage if and when the state picks private contractors to do some of its work.
That was the accusation against the administration of fellow Republican Christie Todd Whitman back in the 1990's when she privatized the Department of Motor Vehicles. But the license registration process was so bad that the state eventually took those duties back, and motorists have been praising it ever since.
"You had to wait a long time, " said Margarita Leahy of Lawrenceville in describing the motor vehicle offices under privatization. Now, she said, it's "so much better."
And Rosenstein cited a State Commission of Investigation report into the vehicle inspection contract that found "exorbitant expenses for public relations" that included a $178,000 per month contract for PR to the then-Governor's(Whitman) former Communication's Director.
But Governor Christie counters, "just because previous administrations in some people's measure have failed in this regard doesn't make me believe we have to follow the same path."
He quickly added, "This is a new day and a different administration."