In town hall meeting, Christie blasts Legislature's pace

Gov. Christie asked for help to "put the heat on these folks."
Gov. Christie asked for help to "put the heat on these folks."
Posted: April 20, 2011

JACKSON, N.J. - A jam-packed crowd of senior citizens laughed and gasped Tuesday as Gov. Christie delivered a 40-minute, point-by-point condemnation of the Democratic-controlled "do-nothing Legislature" that may have served as a preview of election season.

Christie began his morning town hall meeting in the clubhouse of a 55-and-older development by counting the number of times per month the Assembly and Senate have held voting sessions. (Usually there have been one or two.)

He unveiled timelines that contrasted his initiatives over recent months to those of legislators. And he mocked lawmakers for achievements such as issuing a proclamation for Fall Prevention Awareness Week.

"There's not enough weeks in a decade to be aware of all the 'awareness weeks' that they pass," Christie said. "We're aware of so much in New Jersey, it's incredible."

His key proposals - including education and ethics changes, tax reduction and lowering the cost of benefits to public employees - have been stymied by the Legislature, Christie said. By saying he needs support to achieve those goals, Christie was reminding those in his audience that they could back the GOP when all 120 Assembly and Senate seats are up for election in November.

Christie's punching bag in the nascent campaign fight is State Sen. Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), who went on the offensive himself last week. Sweeney met with reporters to argue that Christie's attempt to pin property tax problems on Democrats was unfair and disingenuous.

"Governor, you own the tax increase in the state," Sweeney said, referring to Christie's funding cuts, which he said had shifted a larger financial burden to municipalities.

The most contentious issue is the governor's "tool kit," a collection of bills that Christie has said would lower property taxes. Until the Democrats pass that legislation, Christie says, he can't be fully responsible for tax hikes at the local level.

Sweeney walked reporters through those bills last week, and said some of their proposals had been addressed as part of other legislation. The rest, he said, would not have a major effect on property taxes.

"I've had enough of his rhetoric when it comes to this tool kit," Sweeney said.

Sweeney noted that four bills had been signed into law by Christie, including a much-heralded 2 percent cap on municipal, school, and county tax increases. In a conciliatory moment Tuesday, Christie pointed this out too, saying Sweeney "has been good on some things."

The other Christie initiative that would have a significant effect on taxes - increasing public employee contributions toward pensions and health benefits - also has garnered support from Sweeney. The politicians' staffs have been negotiating compromises, though there was no mention of that by the governor.

Sweeney and Christie appear to be on the same page when it comes to eliminating protections for employees when towns enter shared-services agreements, such as those to consolidate police departments. Sweeney said he hoped to move a bill of his own on the matter before summer.

But Sweeney said Christie had shown an unwillingness to compromise, vetoing measures that were close to what the governor wanted. Meanwhile, Christie has cut funding for tax rebates, and for schools and towns, so much that the tax burden will continue to escalate, he said.

In criticizing Democrats, "the governor is trying to deflect what he's done with the budget," Sweeney said.

Christie only referenced one of his tool-kit proposals Tuesday: ending payments to public employees for unused sick time. Some towns have floated bonds to pay retirees for the sick days they didn't take, resulting in interest payments. The sick-leave payout in Parsippany cost the typical taxpayer $125.

"Now, Sen. Sweeney doesn't think that's important," Christie said as he touted his bill to end the practice. "He calls that 'garbage.' "

In fact, the Democrats passed a bill that would cap payouts at $15,000. But Christie conditionally vetoed it, saying he wanted to phase out all compensation for unused sick days.

In Ocean County, Christie told his audience that "the majority [in the Legislature] decides when they come to work and when they don't, so who's working and who isn't?"

He cited the Legislature's bill addressing vandalism to shrubs and trees.

"These tree vandals, they need to be brought to justice," Christie said sarcastically.

Standing in front of a sign that read "72" - for the number of days before legislators leave for the summer and begin to campaign in earnest - Christie implored the crowd to e-mail and call Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D., Essex).

"You need to help me put the heat on these folks," Christie said. "It can be a very easy message: Get to work."

"The governor's shtick is getting old," a spokesman for Sweeney said after the town hall.

"His comments are disingenuous and meant to kill time between him browbeating a constituent for YouTube purposes and ignoring questions about why property taxes saw their largest increase in four years under his watch," Chris Donnelly said in a statement. "The governor's tool-kit nonsense has been officially disproven."

In the Assembly, Majority Leader Joe Cryan (D., Union)noted that Christie had vetoed many of the 30 Democratic pieces of legislation - dubbed "Back to Work NJ" bills - that would have addressed "high unemployment and job growth stagnation." Some of the proposals later appeared in Christie's budget.

"This is yet another example of the governor behaving like a bully, distorting reality, and blaming everyone but himself," Cryan said in a statement. "It is much easier to sit back and rant than to bring people together at the table to reach a thoughtful compromise."


Contact staff writer Matt Katz at 609-217-8355, mkatz@phillynews.com or @mattkatz00 on Twitter. Read the "Christie Chronicles" blog at philly.com/ChristieChronicles

 

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