“Unfinished business” was the focus of Gov. Chris Christie during a town hall meeting Thursday at Warren County Technical School.
The governor, who received a warm reception in the mostly-Republican county, opened the meeting on the offensive by calling out the Democratic-controlled state Legislature for not adopting much of the reform package he proposed upon taking office in January 2010 that addresses issues ranging from property tax relief to ethics reform.
Prior to fielding questions from the audience during his 98th town hall meeting since taking office, Christie urged the Legislature to move forward with his middle-class reform agenda.
Christie said his "common-sense plan" would allow New Jersey taxpayers to claim an income tax credit of up to 10 percent of their property tax bill. According to Christie's plan, all New Jersey homeowners with up to $400,000 in income would be eligible. Renters would receive a yearly $200 deduction. Christie's administration says the plan would provide a savings of $775 for the average family.
The two parties have yet to agree on what cuts wold be made to make to fund the proposal.
Tying into Christie’s discussion on tax relief was government spending.
Christie said the Legislature needs to approve reforms that would end practices costing New Jersey taxpayers billions of dollars, including allowing public employees to collect more that one public salary simultaneously and paying retiring public employees for hundreds of unused sick days.
"These are just common-sense reforms we shouldn’t even be arguing about," Christie said.
Christie criticized the Legislature for wanting to spend on non-essential items such as a proposal to create a new state agency in the New Jersey State Council on Responsible Fatherhood and a multi-million dollar spending plan to help municipalities "overburdened" by cemeteries under their jurisdiction.
In the area of ethics reform, Christie is calling for "real financial disclosures for both the executive and legislative branches to end conflicts of interest."
During the Q & A part of the town hall meeting, Harmony Township resident Kathy Kelly questioned why New Jersey is not more senior-citizen friendly. High taxes, including on pensions, she said, are forcing many older residents to move out-of-state.
Christie said he supported her idea of eliminating taxes on pensions. He said the overall problem of New Jersey becoming too expensive for seniors is caused by overspending, which drives up taxes.
"These politicians in Trenton treat you like a money tree," Christie said. "We can't ask people for more money until we spend every dollar responsibly."
A technology company owner from Clinton Township asked why state contracts for services her company can provide better and cheaper are going to other companies. Christie responded by saying the state's "archaic" procurement system is in the process of having new rules issued by the treasurer’s office to address such concerns.
While Christie said there is much "unfinished business," he said accomplishments that have occurred during his three years in office include: cutting into the dramatic tax and fee increases that occurred throughout the eight years before he took office under Democratic governors; reducing overall yearly spending; and implementing an annual 2 percent property tax cap on municipalities.
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Prior to the start of the town hall meeting, Christie held a brief ceremony to sign into law a bill designating Route 31 in Warren, Hunterdon and Mercer counties as the Tri-County Purple Heart Memorial Highway.
The legislation, sponsored by Warren County state Sen. Michael Doherty, honors members of the United States military who have been wounded or killed in service to the nation.
Under the terms of the legislation, no state funds will be used for producing, purchasing or erecting the signs designating Route 31 as the Tri-County Purple Heart Memorial Highway. The legislation authorizes the Department of Transportation to receive private funds to pay for any costs related to the signs, according to a recent release from Doherty’s office.