Gov. Christie holds 'town hall' to push 'tool kit'

| 15 Feb 2012 | 10:33

    WEST NEW YORK — Gov. Chris Christie continued to push for a stalled package of bills Tuesday he said are essential for helping New Jersey municipalities rein in costs that get passed on to homeowners in their property-tax bills. At a town-hall style meeting in West New York, Christie focused on his ongoing wrangling with the Legislature over his proposal to prevent public workers from cashing out large amounts of accumulated sick days at retirement. Christie said he'd only sign a bill that ends the practice altogether, and criticized lawmakers for sending him a bill that would cap the payouts at a level he says is too high. He said it made no sense to reward people for not getting sick. He told the audience in the immigrant-heavy, largely working-class town that he was working to help them keep "more money in your pockets, and less in the government's." "In New Jersey we've tried every other way in the state to keep property taxes in check and have failed," Christie said. "The only way we're going to solve this problem is not to tax you more - it's to stop spending so much." Christie asked the mayors of West New York, Union City and Hoboken, who joined him on stage, if they had a magic wand to wave over Trenton, what their one wish would be. Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, a Democrat, said she supported the governor's push to update civil service rules and make it easier for towns to consolidate or share services. She said layoffs she was forced to make after an 80 percent tax increase in Hoboken prior to her taking office, were meant to save the city money, but were bleeding it dry with litigation. "Everybody is suing, the process is a big waste of time and it's very, very expensive," Zimmer told the governor. "We did that to try and cut costs, but now have to defend those actions." West New York Mayor Felix Roque said his town was strangled by payouts to retiring employees, and gave the example of a retired municipal worker that the town was litigating against to stop paying her $306,000 in retirement benefits and unused sick time. Christie said to date, only five of the 20 bills in his so-called "tool kit" for property tax relief, which contains 33 proposals, had been passed by the legislature. The tone of Tuesday's meeting, held in the auditorium of St. Joseph's High School in West New York, was more subdued than some prior town halls where the governor garnered headlines for blasting his detractors or tearing down those who took the microphone to publicly criticize him. A spokesman for the Senate Democrats, Tom Hester Jr., said Tuesday that Christie pushing his tool kit was hypocritical in the face of cuts he's made in municipal and school aid. Senate Democrats said in a statement that Christie has increased property taxes for the middle class while giving tax breaks to millionaires.