The controversy over lane closures at the George Washington Bridge in September continues to persist. Sen. Raymond Lesniak told NJTV News Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he believes the closures came as political retribution against Democratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not supporting Gov. Chris Christie in his bid for reelection.
“The whole thing smells. What I think happened is political retribution. And when they were caught, they tried to cover it up,” Lesniak said of Port Authority officials. He said David Wildstein and Bill Baroni, who both resigned from their positions with the Port Authority, got caught playing politics.
While he didn’t say Christie ordered the lane closures, Lesniak said he believes the officials reacted to an atmosphere of fear that the governor created. Lesniak called that atmosphere unhealthy and one that should end.
“I’ve been asked why would the governor want this to happen? The answer is there is no reason necessary. People are programmed to follow his orders and what he wants and he wants many Democrats to support him in his election. And they went out and crossed the line,” Lesniak said.
Political action committees, known as Super PACs, have cropped up in increasing numbers. Lesniak has created one to ensure his policies are being heard. “I’m a strong believer in social justice. I have a mission to change the culture of corrections, to change the culture of violence in our society. That takes elected officials who agree with me rather than people who wanna cut food stamps for poor families. So might as well fight fire with fire and do the same thing that they’re doing on the federal level,” Lesniak explained.
While Lesniak admits his political rivals have an abundance of funds, he said he wouldn’t have to match them dollar for dollar. “We just have to be able to use the money effectively and be on the right side of the issues and communicate that,” he said.
Lesniak said he, along with his political allies, is trying to create jobs, achieve social justices and build up the middle class, which he says has fallen behind. “If you look around the rest of the states in the region, they’re doing better. They’ve recovered from the national recession better than we have,” he said.
According to Lesniak, New Jersey hasn’t been aggressive enough with infrastructure improvements. “There have been federal dollars and federal programs that have been just left there because Republicans don’t want to give Obama any credit. And that’s wrong,” he said.
Expenses are high in the Garden State and politicians on both sides of the aisle have promised to bring down property taxes and make them more equitable. Lesniak said there is a lot of wasteful spending in areas of education and corrections.
“If we took a real close look at how public education dollars are spent, we could save that money and use it more effectively. And lower taxes. We have a very low tax rate for multi-millionaires. They can pay a little more,” Lesniak said. “Our correction system wastes hundreds of millions of dollars. We could have programs — and I’ve worked with the governor on this — for alternatives.”
Lesniak added that offering people drug recovery and job training programs will break down the barriers to employment. He said it’s important to attack drug and alcohol issues because many incarcerated individuals struggle with addiction.
Christie has touted drug courts as being a better alternative to imprisonment, but Lesniak said the governor’s version isn’t perfect.
“I’ve worked with him on that but he hasn’t funded them to the extent that’s necessary. And every dollar that’s spent on recovery is $5 saved on prison costs,” Lesniak said.