GREENWICH – Buoyed by the support of a handful of urban Democratic Party mayors who signed off on his property tax reform package, and alert to a timeline that gives him two weeks to get the package out of committee and onto a ballot for November, Gov. Chris Christie today defined the fight as New Jersey versus Trenton Democrats.
Appearing in the legislative district of Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), who Saturday proposed a competing 2.9 percent property tax cap plan with the governor’s 2.5 hard cap, Christie dismissed the Sweeney version as Trenton “swiss cheese.”
The Republican governor said Sweeney’s cap is higher, allows for exceptions compared to his, which only opens the cap for debt service, and – and this is the most important distinction, said the governor – “The only way taxes go up in my plan as opposed to the Trenton Democrats’ plan is you have to approve it. The voters decide.”
The crowd that packed the auditorium of the local elementary school applauded.
“The Trenton Democrats say ‘Trust us.’ They want 120 people in Trenton to make that decision and not have you make that decision,” said the governor, in reference to a stipulation in his 2.5% tax cap proposal that allows elected officials to tax over the cap only if they first ask the voters by referendum.
“Who do you want it to cost? Them or you?”
“Them,” a woman said as another round of applause flared.
“These people in Trenton are scared because they want the power to decide, not you,” said Christie as he roamed the stage in front of an appreciative audience, who appeared and sounded happy to have the governor deep in South Jersey in one of the state’s original 104 municipalities.
The governor made people feel the urgency of his effort.
“We have another two weeks to get this out of committee and get it on the ballot,” said Christie. “Call your legislators with a simple message: ‘Let me vote.'”
Apparently trying to head off Democrats’ repeated criticisms that his budgeting decisions have simply redistributed costs through other taxes and fees, Christie carefully identified the property tax as “the cruelest and most difficult tax.”
In a lovefest event that started with Fox News personality Neil Cavuto chatting with the governor in an interview for his afternoon show while the audience viewed the taping live, Christie later fielded a tough question, from a local Board of Education prez steamed about the potential impact of the spending cap on a growing school district.
“How is our district going to provide a thorough and efficient education?” asked Jennifer Contiliano. “Since 1999, teachers have been paying 10 percent for their medical benefits. We’ve been fiscally prudent. We’re an anomaly.”
Agreeing to meet with the local Board of Ed. in Trenton to discuss the finepoints, Christie said the government tool kit he proposes as part of his property tax reform leverage in walking down the teacher’s union to suppress costs.
In advance of the event, teachers flocked to the school to give the unions-battling governor an earful.
That amounted to no great South Jersey showdown as the governor slipped through a side door and one crestfallen woman lugging a “You’re hurting our children” sign in the heat muttered to another, “He’s already here.”
Inside, Mayor George Shivery was giddy onstage as he worked the crowd in the buildup to the governor.
“I feel like the lead act to a Bon Jovi concert,” Shivery said. “The man is amazing – one of the most exciting governors in the United States.”