Gov. Chris Christie vetoed 14 bills on Friday including a top priority for Democratic lawmakers, a measure broadly enhancing the state’s paid family leave law.
The bill (S3085) would have given workers more paid leave and time off to take care of a new child or sick relative, while also increasing job protections and covering more types of family members.
But Christie called the bill a “costly expansion” that would raise taxes and harm small businesses. His conditional veto of the bill gut almost all of the legislation, leaving only portions pertaining to processing, public reporting and promoting the benefits currently available under the state’s existing family leave law from 2008.
“With significant uncertainty about the cost associated with the expansion of these programs, I am recommending that the bill be amended to focus directly on raising awareness of the benefits currently available,” Christie wrote in his veto message to lawmakers. “Doing so will ensure that before the state undertakes a costly expansion of these programs, the sponsors of this bill understand the true costs — both direct and indirect — associated with the same.”
The bill was sponsored by the state’s top two Democrats: Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson). Sweeney penned an op-ed for Observer earlier Friday on why the state should expand paid family leave.
“While it’s not surprising in the least that Governor Christie would veto a bill designed to help working families in this state, it’s still altogether disappointing,” Prieto said in a statement. “His gutting of the bill essentially turns it into a public awareness campaign for the existing program. Families struggling to make ends meet while taking care of a loved one don’t want to hear more talk, they want real solutions.”
The legislation would increase the maximum number of weeks a person can receive benefits from six to 12, raised the value of benefits from two-thirds of a worker’s average weekly wage to 90 percent and expanded job protections for those who work at smaller businesses.
“Christie’s gutting of these paid leave improvements is a slap in the face to New Jersey’s working families,” said Jon Whiten, vice president of New Jersey Policy Perspective, a left-leaning think tank that backed the bill. “New Jersey can — and must — do better for its working caregivers, so we can build a strong workforce and a strong economy.”
Whiten was critical of another Christie veto announced Friday. The governor rejected a measure that would have increased state welfare benefits by 30 percent over three years and tied future increases to rising costs of living. Christie said the bill would have “substantial budgetary impacts.” Whiten called the veto “beyond cruel.”
Christie turned down a bill to give airport and transit workers bigger paychecks. Lawmakers wanted to raise wages for subcontracted workers at Newark airport, Newark Penn Station and Hoboken Terminal to $17.98 per hour and set benefits at $4.27, the same as the federal level.
Supporters said the measure would level the playing field between New Jersey and New York. The bi-state Port Authority runs the region’s airports, but because New York has a higher state minimum wage, workers on the Jersey side of the Hudson River take home less pay.
But Christie had harsh words for lawmakers in rejecting the legislation. “The bill represents the ongoing attempt by members of the Legislature to move piecemeal legislation that serves the interests of only a few solely to pander to the unions that support them,” he wrote.
The New Jersey Business and Industry Association praised Christie’s veto, saying the bill would have set a “terrible precedent by circumventing the collective bargaining process and imposing backdoor wage and benefit increases by statute.”
Christie suggested changes to a bill that would ban the sale of unsafe supplemental mattresses for cribs and playpens after news reports of children suffocating while sleeping.
“I believe that ensuring a safe sleep environment for our youngest children is essential,” Christie said. “But a total ban on supplemental mattresses is too drastic a solution.”
In his conditional veto, he recommended allowing the sale of custom-fitted supplemental mattresses that comply with safety standards, while banning mattresses deemed unsafe.
The governor rejected legislation to impose taxes and fees on short-term online rentals such as Airbnb that are currently levied on hotels and motels. Sponsors of the bill described the measure as leveling the playing field for the hospitality industry. Christie disagreed.
“The tax increase proposed in this bill would not only impact New Jersey property owners who have — for generations — made their homes available for short-term rentals, but would also disproportionally increase the cost of visiting New Jersey shore towns and other tourist destinations,” the governor wrote in his veto message.
And Christie conditionally vetoed a bill to dedicate one percent of cigarette tax revenue to fund anti-smoking initiatives in New Jersey. He said the bill would divert $7 million already dedicated in the state’s $34.7 billion budget this fiscal year. So he suggested delaying implementation by one year so the diversion occurs in the next budget, after he leaves office.