As reported by nj.com, Governor Chris Christie began a town hall push to press lawmakers to make state employees pay more for benefits or be blamed for scotching property tax relief. The first meeting took place on February 24, 2011 in West Deptford, the hometown of Senate President Stephen Sweeney.
Speaking to a receptive crowd, Christie said residents needed to pressure lawmakers to take his deal. “Here’s the deal I offered the Legislature: If they pass my reform, which is very simple-have employees pay 30 percent of their costs that would save us this year alone $300 million-I will take that $300 million and I will use it to double your property tax relief,” Christie said. He also stated, “The public employee unions will go crazy-they already are. They need to pass that reform…If they don’t, then you know they’re taking the side of the special interests over the side of the property taxpayers in the state.”
The Governor’s proposed budget fell just short of doubling the relief. He recommended allocating $458 million, an increase of 70 percent, or about $189.8 million, from last year. Property tax relief would double if Christie dedicates all $300 million he says could be saved by hiking the health insurance payments.
The increase in property tax rebates would be for households making less than $75,000 a year or seniors and the disabled making less than $150,000 a year. Christie did not make those distinctions when talking to the crowd in West Deptford.
Sweeney did not attend the town hall meeting. Under Sweeney’s proposals for benefit changes, the health contributions would be phased in over several years and would be based on an employee’s salary. Sweeney dismissed Christie’s comments. “It is nice that the governor took time out from his busy schedule of raising property taxes, underfunding education and pitting New Jersey residents against one another to visit somewhere that is actually in New Jersey,” his spokesman Chris Donnelly said. “Senate President Sweeney hopes he enjoyed his time in the great town of West Deptford.”
Assembly Democrat spokesman Tom Hester reiterated charges that Christie is encouraging class warfare by juxtaposing health cost increases against property tax relief. “The governor’s pitting of neighbor against neighbor-teachers against senior citizens, police officers against retirees, firefighters against the disabled-is abhorrent politics,” Hester said. “Senior and disabled citizens shouldn’t be pawns in this governor’s awful political theater.”