By Brenda Flanagan
People are angry about this. The public recognizes this for what it is which is a filthy, backroom, backscratching deal,” said Ann Vardeman, program director for NJ Citizen Action.
Opponents brandished back scratchers — symbols they said of the bill that relax ethics rules to let Gov. Christie profit from a book deal while still in office, and at the same time grant raises to cabinet officers, judges, county prosecutors, sheriffs and clerks and also increase legislative staff allotments.
“It doesn’t make sense to raise the salaries of some of the highest paid officials in the state to say nothing of the ethical ramifications of allowing a governor who’s nearly a multiple millionaire to profit off his own escapades,” Doug O’Malley, Environment New Jersey director, said.
“How greedy is it for somebody who made over $900,000 last year to say that he needs to change conflict of interest laws so that he can make even more. That defies reality for 99 percent of New Jersey,” said David Pringle, NJ Campaign Director for Clean Water Action.
Lobbyists handed the back scratchers out to lawmakers at the Statehouse.
“Do I think judges deserve increase? Yes. Do I think legislative staff deserves an increase? Yes,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg. “This is about getting a cash advance to write a book. He can wait until next January when he goes out of office.”
“I’m a no on it,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi. “Not because I’m against the governor doing a book, or that I don’t think my staff should receive some sort of raise. It’s more a function of our state can’t afford it at this time and so until we get our finances under control, I can not justify voting yes on this.”
Critics also attacked the so-called Christie’s revenge bill that would no longer require towns to post legal ads in local newspapers. Publishers estimate that could cost them millions in lost revenues and 300 jobs.
Executive Director of the New Jersey Press Association George White said, “The smaller weeklies are exponentially at high risk certainly and I know of several that are not certain they’d be able to continue to operate and would likely close if a bill like this would go through.”
“We need the newspapers out there to make sure that we hold government accountable. And we see this not only as Christie’s revenge over Bridgegate, but we see it as a way to go after the press to make sure government will no longer be held accountable. And that threatens democracy and that’s what this is really about,” said Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittle.
Claiming newspapers wouldn’t run his op-ed, Gov. Christie this weekend published his own rebuttal saying, “…there will be no lack of transparency and no hard to the public as a result of this reform. These are merely scare tactics by their paid Trenton lobbyists arguing for a taxpayer funded subsidy in disguise. This bill, and their fight over it, unmasks their greed.”
Christie claims posting legal ads online could save $80 million, but showed no source for that figure.
“This set of legislation, these two bills, they are being pushed through very, very quickly. I do think with the hope that it’s fast enough that the public does not get a whiff of the putrid stench of crony capitalism here,” said CWA-NJ State Director Hetty Rosenstein.
“If this bill has any merit – it’ll have merit in January or February, not the week before Christmas where we’re all exhausted by an election. Let the public look at this bill, read it. Let organization talk to their members,” Bob Schapiro, former president of the NJ Society of Professional Journalists, said.
The Senate won’t even consider these bills unless they pass the Assembly. The Assembly came in and did some ceremonial business then broke to caucus and argue about these bills some more. Reportedly they’re facing opposition from both sides of the aisle — possibly at least five votes short of the 41 needed for passage. If the Assembly can’t bring these bills up for a vote today, then they could get held until the next legislative session in 2017.