Governor's Town Hall Meeting Focuses on Corruption In New Jersey
Governor also said Cranford's flooding issues following Irene and problems with COAH are at the "forefront" of his mind.
Gov. Chris Christie opened his town hall meeting in Union Monday by taking stabs at the federal government and corrupt politicians, and critizing legislators for failing to take action on a number of bills he proposed more than a year ago.
Seventy-six days after his last town hall meeting, Christie raised points regarding pay to play laws as well as ethics reform. He also addressed the federal government and what he dubbed "inattentiveness" to big issues facing the nation such as Medicare.
"When I look at what's happening in DC, what drives me the most crazy is that they're not solving anything," he said during the meeting, which took place at the Boys & Girls Club on Jeanette Avenue. "In New Jersey we've tried to set a different model. When you confront the big issues, there's gonna be disagreements. But in the end, we have to fix these problems."
The governor said that in September of 2010, he put forward a "comprehensive set of proposals to clean up the ethics system" in the state.
"I know it's hard to believe that New Jersey has ethics problems," Christie quipped, sarcastically adding that as long as Illinois and Louisiana are still in the union, New Jersey will only be number three in the country in terms of corruption.
"New Jersey has a history of these problems and I think I'm particularly well-situated to deal with them as governor," Christie said.
More than ayear ago, legislation was proposed to prevent politicians from holding dual offices in the state. Christie said that bill has yet to have a hearing in the Legislature.
"One elected job should be enough in New Jersey," he said, making specific mention of Union County politicians. "This is a place where that stuff happens a lot. In this county, we have some of the busiest men in NJ state government."
Christie also briefly took aim at public officials who are facing criminal charges, stating that they should be deemed ineligible for a pension.
"Public officials that commit a crime should lose their pension. They broke the law," the governor said, adding that these officials should also be prohbited from using campaign funds "to pay a criminal defense lawyer."
"In NJ we've started to do things. We've done a lot in 20 months. No matter how many laws you pass, somebody is gonna break them," he said. "But that's why we have prosecutors and that's why we have jails."
Another bill that Christie said has failed to move forward would require legislators to disclose their income. The bill initially required the governor to disclose his income. He conditionally vetoed the bill, sending it back to lawmakers with additional stipulations that would require legislators to disclose their income as well. Christie said that was more than 380 days ago, but lawmakers still have not passd the bill.
"Apparently, what's good for the goose isn't good for the gander in New Jersey," the governor said.
Another proposal that has stalled, Christie said, involves making public employee unions abide by "pay to play" restrictions and "closing the loopholes on restrictions to award government contracts."
"The problems are obvious, the solutions are obvious, yet nobody wants to do anything," the governor told the crowd.
Christie also spoke of the state's pension and benefits system, which he said is $121 billion underfunded.
"Washington is ignoring the problems with Medicare and social security. When there's not enough money to spend, everybody is gonna have to give something," he said. "The worst thing that government can do is to be inattentive to problems."
The governor's last town hall meeting took place back in June. Following that meeting the state Legislature approved an overhaul of the pension and benefit systems for public employees.
More than an hour before the scheduled start of Christie's town hall meeting in Union, more than 100 residents and protesters gathered outside the Boys & Girls Club.
In addition to those who were interested in addressing the outspoken Republican governor, a contingent of firefighters from the Cranford FMBA also showed up to carry signs and protest changes to the pesnion and benefits for emergency workers.
"We're here to support our state FMBA, especially in Cranofrd, where the recent hurricane stressed our department to the limit," said Andy, a member of Fireman's Benevolent Association Local 237.
The 25-member Cranford Fire Department, he said, has already been reduced by 10 percent as a result of Gov. Christie's 2 percent budget cap.
"I'm out here to stand behind these fellow," said Bob Brower, NJ State FMBA vice president. "The current governor has no concern for public safety at all. He said he would never touch our pensions or benefits and he, in fact, did. He is an out and out liar."
Brower said Christie gave firefighters a "sacred trust" that he wouldn't alter the benefits or pensions.
"As he lied to us, he's extremely disrespectful to teachers," Brower added. "They are the most important part of the next generation."
During the question and answer portion of the town hall meeting, the governor specifically addressed problems regarding flooding from Hurricane Irene. He made mention of the issues that Cranford faced, and the problems the township is having as a result of a builder's rememedy lawsuit that is forcing the municipality to permit the construction of 360 residential units in a flood zone on Birchwood Avenue.
"The Cranford situation is on the forefront of my mind right now. COAH is forcing this situation," he said, adding that all of the affordable housing obligations and situations similar to those in Cranford are being looked at.
Donna Nesbitt-Fernandez, an avid Christie supporter who attended the town hall meeting, said she liked the fact that the governor was not afraid to address issues involving the unions and teachers.
"There are great teachers, there are good teachers and there are not so good teachers," Christie said, speaking about merit pay for educators. "Lets do what we do in every other place in America. If someone does a good job, let's pay them more."
Barbara Shannon, a local senior citizen, was disappointed that the governor didn't address more issues involving seniors during his question-and-answer session.
"He didn't really reach the seniors or talk about how to make their quality of life better," Shannon said.
Christie closed the meeting by addressing critics who often criticize him for his abrasiveness and tendency to be outspoken.
"I'm gonna give it to you exactly the way I feel," Christie said. "You never have to wonder, 'what is he thinking?'"