Gov. Chris Christie came out swinging at the state legislature Tuesday during a town hall in Elmwood Park, criticizing its inaction on a slew of proposals that comprise his "Middle-Class Reform Agenda,"—namely tax cuts, ethics reform, ending sick leave payouts for government employees and closing property tax cap loopholes.
The New Jersey governor's hardline approach to pushing Democrats toward government and tax reform even extended beyond state borders when, during the event's question and answer portion, he suggested Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's campaign might benefit from taking a more combative approach toward President Barack Obama's policies.
As governor, Christie said his top priority is to provide tax relief for families making up to $400,000, and flatly stated that Democratic legislators will "never" cut taxes unless forced to do so, likening their fiscal policies to the cons of the character Wimpy from the "Popeye" cartoons.
“Wimpy would always say ‘I’d be happy to pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today,'" Christie said. "That’s what the Democrats are like. 'I’d be happy to spend your money today and I’ll give you a tax cut tomorrow.' Well, the spending happens and the tax cutting never comes."
Christie said that until New Jersey's Democratic legislators stop squeezing taxpayers for money, the state won't be able to compete with neighboring states where taxes are lower.
“How are we going to be competitive to create more jobs and keep people here if we continue to conduct ourselves in that way?" said Christie, whose plan purports to save $775 for the average New Jersey family. "We can’t.”
Christie also touted his support for ethics reform in government, which he called "long overdue."
"I proposed comprehensive ethics reform 742 days ago and at the time, Sen. [Stephen] Sweeney said, 'We’re going to give the governor's package a thorough review and hearing because there’s lots of good ideas in there.' Seven-hundred-and-forty-two days later, it has not gotten one hearing in the state legislature. Not one."
In particular, Christie attacked the practice of dual office holding and called for the end of dual employment for all state, county and local officials and employees.
He specifically cited Democratic State Senator Nicholas Sacco, who also serves as the mayor of North Bergen and as its assistant superintendent of schools, and is paid for all three, according to Christie.
"$309,000 a year for Senator Nick Sacco," Christie said, quipping, "Senator Sacco, Mayor Sacco, Assistant Superintendent Sacco—his business card must be this big to fit all those titles on there." The governor extended his arms wide to laughter and applause.
Christie also stumped for ending the practice of paying out cash to public employees for their unused sick days.
"People shouldn’t be paid for not being sick," he said, noting that the accumulated sick leave and vacation payout liability of all municipalities statewide is $880 million. "I think that not being sick is the benefit of not being sick."
While he acknowledged that it would be unfair and illegal to strip the sick time from employees who have already accrued it, he said that going forward sick time should only be used to cover sick days.
He criticized Democrats' attempts to cap sick leave payouts, first at $15,000, and then at $7,500—proposals he vetoed.
“I propose zero means zero...you can accumulate as much sick leave as you want, and use it if you’re sick," he said, adding that extra sick time could even be donated to a chronically or terminally ill co-worker. "But no more cash for the sick days...It's not a second taxpayer-funded retirement plan."
The final tenet of Christie's Middle-Class Reform Agenda calls for closing loopholes in the 2 percent property tax cap that he said some municipal mayors have tried to circumvent by charging residents user fees for garbage collection and other services that were previously included in the budget.
Christie said the bill he supports allows for user fees as long as they fit under the 2 percent cap. While the bill has passed in the Senate, Christie said it's been stalled in the Assembly because mayors have complained that it makes municipal spending too difficult to control.
He said that whether municipalities like it or not, staying below the tax cap and consolidating services across the state is a must. His proposal, endorsed by Senate President Sweeney, would require towns to enter mutually beneficial shared service agreements with neighboring communities or risk losing state aid.
"You can decide if you want to have one of everything, if that makes you feel better. But guess what," Christie said. "The folks in [other municipalities] shouldn't have to pay for it."
In closing, Christie called on constituents to hold the legislature's feet to the fire and pressure it to enact his Middle-Class Reform Agenda by the end of the year.
"There is nothing in here, in this agenda for the fall, that doesn’t make sense," he said. "There’s nothing radical in there, so we need to go fight for it."
During an extensive question and answer portion that lasted over an hour, Christie fielded questions on school funding, profligate board of education spending and the presidential election.
In response to a question about Mitt Romney's "failure to aggressively attack Obama's failed policies," Christie agreed that the Republican presidential nominee needed to make a stronger case to the American people, but said it was ultimately up to Romney to decide how to proceed.
"I’ve often said, you don’t win a championship on points, you have to knock the champion down to the canvas," Christie said. "That’s the way it works, I think, in politics, the same way it works most of the time in boxing."