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Vol. LXV, No. 47
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
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Christie Holds Public Forum at Library

Anne Levin

Packed into the Princeton Public Library’s Community Room and standing around the lobby to watch closed circuit television, members of the public gathered Tuesday afternoon to hear Governor Chris Christie’s views on making government more effective and efficient. Mr. Christie started off by congratulating local officials and the public on the successful passage of consolidation.

“Local officials know they have a partner in our administration to work in common sense ways like this one,” he said, adding, “Locally made decisions are the only way to go.”

The public forum came together yesterday when the Princeton Public Library was contacted by the governor’s office. The town-hall-style meeting was confirmed by mid-afternoon. Though it was billed as a public gathering, reservations were necessary and the library’s Community Room was filled almost a half-hour before the governor strode into the room.

Speaking mostly off the cuff, though occasionally checking a sheet of paper on the podium, Mr. Christie touched on everything from pension reforms to the sick-pay system. “Let’s start running the government more like a business,” he said, decrying “anachronistic civil service rules.” Calling the sick-pay system crazy, he asked, “Why do we pay people for not being sick?” Statewide, he added, the liability of that is $825 million.

Mr. Christie said he is asked constantly at town meetings about property taxes. “The only way to control property taxes is to spend less,” he said. “We’re not going to spend our way out of this problem, we’re going to save our way.”

Turning briefly into an interviewer, Mr. Christie asked Mr. Goerner and Mr. Wilkes, who was representing Princeton Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman, about the biggest challenges of consolidation. Both mentioned financial and human resource issues. He also asked what the State could do to help, joking they “should keep the answers under 45 minutes.” While Mr. Wilkes suggested being creative in how transition costs and layoffs are financed, Mr. Goerner asked for more flexibility from the State in letting municipalities manage their affairs more efficiently.

The floor was opened for questions, which began with a student from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School asking what would convince the governor to continue with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). “I can’t be convinced, because RGGI is a failure,” Mr. Christie answered, adding that the State has already gone beyond the clean air standards that RGGI supports for future years.

Further questions focused on the reliability of New Jersey utilities in storms such as Hurricane Irene and the October snowstorm, the government’s role in the income disparity that has fueled the Occupy movements, and fracking. Mr. Christie said he thinks that while they represent disparate points of view, he thinks the Tea Party and Occupy movements “come from the same kind of emotion, which is that government isn’t working for them any more and is just for people who can afford to hire the best lobbyists.”

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