MANALAPAN – He started a half-hour late, but Gov. Chris Christie stood grinning at the center of applauding folks at the Monmouth County over-55 community recreation center in Manalapan, a political swing town, with grades on a poster board behind him.
Five minutes later, the political parent-teacher conference began.
He’s taken to calling the Democratic majority a “do-nothing Legislature,” but the Dems are calling the label unfair, Christie said, and they’re “selectively picking out stuff I’m not working on.”
So instead of continuing to debate each side’s level of action, Christie decided to memorialize it. “I’m giving them a report card,” he said.
The first subject was his toolkit, which includes some bills that he said were co-opted by Democrats, passed, and then vetoed after Christie called the bills watered-down reform, such as restrictions on sick leave payouts.
Big-ticket items like the tax levy cap and arbitration reform are done; others like pension and benefit reform are promised, but civil service reform and a few other tools are still not law.
“We’ve done some of (the toolkit) so far, to be fair,” Christie said, passing five of 20 proposals. “You’ve seen some of the effects of those five already,” like the 2 percent levy cap that cannot be exceeded unless local voters want to exceed it.
“They don’t get a bunch of bureaucrats in Trenton anymore to do that,” he said. “They come to you.”
Across the state this year, 14 towns tried to raise the tax levy beyond 2 percent.
“Of the 14 who put it on the ballot, 12 of them were defeated (last week),” Christie said.
So on the first subject, he said, “I gave them an ‘Incomplete,’ ” with the mock-teacher comment: “Follow through remains an issue.”
The second subject he graded the Dems on was health care benefit reform.
“In the first year, my plan would save nearly $320 million,” he said, merely at the state level, and possibly in excess of $1 billion across the state.
He gave the Dems who are actively working on the reform another “Incomplete” grade.
“Check your math, it needs work,” was the comment Christie attached.
The third subject was pension reform, another “Incomplete.”
Similarly, Christie dropped a critical comment: “Work remains behind schedule.”
The fourth subject that Christie provided a grade for was ethics reform – simultaneously touting his own past as crime-buster U.S. Attorney.
Of the ethics reform bills that Christie has proposed, he said, “Not one of those bills has even gotten a hearing.”
“I almost gave them an ‘F’ on this one,” he said, but, “I’m trying to soften my image a little.”
He gave them another ‘I’ for incomplete: “Demonstrates complete disinterest in the subject matter.”
Next, he graded shadow government reform.
“Sewerage authorities, water authorities, utility authorities that no one’s watching,” he said, but he only has veto power over seven of these numerous authorities, one of which is not the Passaic Valley Sewerage Authority, recently gutted by arrests and scandal.
Another “Incomplete,” Christie said: “Failure to focus on the prevention of waste and abuse is of great concern.”
The Dems, he said, have “friends and buddies on the payrolls,” and mocking them, he said, “If he gets control of that then where the heck are we going to find out friends jobs?”
Education reform netted another grade of “Incomplete” and a comment: “In the year of education reform, interest in the topic is unclear.”
With similar notes, another two subjects – repealing the inmate early release program and reforming the Council on Affordable Housing – were also given “Incomplete” grades.
“That’s a report card of eight incompletes,” he said. “You’ve got to get on the phone, you’ve got to get on your email,” and send the Democratic leaders one simple message: “Get to work on the governor’s reform package.”
Assembly Democratic spokesman Tom Hester Jr. came back at the Republican governor in an email release.
“While we appreciate the governor emphasizing his failure to improve the lives of New Jerseyans suffering under his property tax hikes, job losses, and health care cuts,” he said, “we also wish he’d grow up and take some responsibility for his lack of leadership. It’s long past time for this governor – who has vetoed numerous reform and job creation measures – to stop his childish tantrums and start working with others like an adult to solve problems facing the people of New Jersey.”