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Cuomo and Christie: Peas in a pod?

Herb Boyd | 4/12/2011, 4:46 p.m.

They are first-term governors of adjoining states, of Italian heritage (at least matrilineal), with last names that began with the same letter. Both are Roman Catholic, of the same generation, with children, and are both faced with comparable, increasingly unmanageable state deficits of $10 to $11 billion. They also appear to have a friendly, cordial relationship.

Each of them is currently experiencing favorable approval ratings from various polls--though polls, as we know, are but a momentary snapshot. Let's see how they fare after their fiscally conservative budgets are fully digested, especially by the unions.

But there are dramatic differences between New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey's Chris Christie. First of all one's a Democrat and the other is a Republican, and they may have differing opinions on the worthiness of the MTV reality show "Jersey Shore," particularly as to who holds the unfortunate claim to Snooki, one of its stars.

In a much more serious vein, the two leaders radically depart on ways to solve their soaring deficits.

Cuomo came out with a meat cleaver, leaving practically every organization and institution in the state bewildered and angry. Over the weekend, he heard some of this derision during his address of the Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators, and none were more vociferous than Councilman Charles Barron, who led a chant of "Tax the rich!"

While Cuomo has stated an interest in ending the so-called millionaire's tax for those earning more than $200,000 annually, his proposed budget has devastating cuts to Medicaid and education.

Educators were outraged to learn that the governor planned to cut $1.5 billion on spending for K-12 education, which amounts to more than 7 percent of this year's spending, according to a New York Times editorial. "Mr. Cuomo has proposed to not pay out another $1.2 billion that the state was scheduled to spend under a 2006 court ruling to improve education in chronically underfinanced districts," wrote the Times.

What this means is that the state's poorer districts--as in the past--will be given short shrift and short-changed.

Several unions were equally upset by the proposed cuts. Kenneth Brynien, president of the Public Employees Federation, told the press that the cuts would "cripple public services." Health care workers offered a similar outlook on Medicaid, stating that the cuts would force the closing of some hospitals.

Christie is no less enlightened on his approach to education or the unions, and he may have taken an even more decisive step on the deficit crisis in his support of Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who is in the middle of a maelstrom that seems destined to have national ramifications. To balance his budget, Walker's actions may deliver a critical blow to the state's public employee unions.

At the core of Walker's proposal is shedding public employees of many of their collective bargaining rights, which has led to massive demonstrations. The money issues remain on the table, and the unions seem to agree with sacrificing certain wage and salary concessions--but not their rights to bargain.