TRENTON – It’s no game, this latest gambit by the governor to rein in public spending. But he says Democrats who control the Legislature are treating it like one.
“I feel like I’m with Monty Hall,” Gov. Christie told a crowd at town hall this week in West New York, invoking the legendary “Let’s Make a Deal” game show host. “You don’t like 15,000? How about 7,500?”
Prowling the stage, mic in hand, he followed with something very unlike Monty Hall, putting away the fun demeanor in favor of a serious attack on a Democratic proposal to halve the payouts for unused sick leave.
“What does $7,500 have to do with anything regarding reality?” asked the governor, who’s billing his latest campaign as another in his drive to cut property taxes.
“Why should anybody be entitled to a $7,500 check when they leave (government service) just because they didn’t get sick,” the governor continued at the forum, captured in yet another of the hundreds of YouTube videos put out by his office. “So I’ve said to them ‘No. Zero. Zero means zero.’”
He had a couple of Democratic allies speak out at the meeting in support of his plan.
Among them was Union City Mayor Brian Stack, who is also a state senator known for famously introducing Christie at a Union City town hall last February as “the greatest governor this state has ever had.”
This time, Stack piped up to say he would co-sponsor legislation Christie wants, “no doubt about it.”
In front of the crowd, West New York Mayor Felix Roque also chimed in.
“I always say a commander has to make a tough decision,” Roque proclaimed to Christie in front of the audience.
“And you’re the commander and I’m sure you’re making those tough decisions. And I also say in the military, when the going gets tough, the tough get going and you’re doing it so I’m proud.”
But Democratic leaders in the Legislature are singing a different tune.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the Assembly’s deputy speaker and Democratic state committee chairman, accused Christie of running a “slick campaign” that amounts to “public relations” through “a cynical and deceptive promise to local government officials all across the state.”
“He might as well be trying to sell the Brooklyn Bridge,” Wisniewski said.
In his statement, the Democratic chairman noted that Christie’s a lawyer so he “ought to know that his proposal to eliminate existing local government liabilities for sick and vacation payments amounts to an unconstitutional taking. He also knows that local officials already have the power to negotiate caps on retirement payouts.”
But saying “you can’t change the rules once the game’s already started,” Christie at his town hall said that he’s looking to cut the accumulation of the time for payouts beginning now and into the future.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, (D-32), Teaneck, also had some tough words for Christie.
“As with most things the governor brings up,” she said in a statement, “reality is often a little more complex than his rhetoric. Benefits already promised must be provided, regardless of whether we think it’s right. We need to ensure that in our rush to reform the system, we do not push long-time workers to the exit. If we do, local governments will be faced with having to pay all of those retiring workers now, inadvertently putting themselves in an even more tenuous fiscal position.
“I am certain we can find common ground that will lead to real reform,” Weinberg says. “Compromise on sick leave pay can be had, if the governor wants it. We are still willing to sit down with the governor to reach agreement, if only he would step down from his town hall soap box to meet with us.”