Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Christie Targets Civil Service

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Christie Targets Civil Service

Article excerpt

In his most expansive comments yet about what his second term would look like, Governor Christie said he would focus on restructuring taxes and push to give students financial help to leave failing urban schools.

Christie, a Republican, has spent most of his time on the campaign trail collecting endorsements from Democratic officials as well as African-American clergy and Hispanic organizations - groups that have traditionally backed Democrats. He has traveled the state, touting his ability to work with members of both parties to place a cap on local property tax increases, and he has highlighted his leadership during Superstorm Sandy.

Christie faces state Sen. Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, who has been working to close a 20-point gap in the polls with significantly less financing than the governor, who has brought in donations from across the country.

On Thursday, in a meeting with The Record's editorial board, Christie laid out specifics about what he'd like to accomplish if given a second term.

Christie said that the state has made progress by enacting a 2 percent local property tax cap and requiring public employees to pay more toward their pensions and benefits, but added that there is more work to do.

"We slowed down a train that was going 100 miles an hour down to about 20 miles an hour," he said. "Now if I have a second term, we have to do some of the other things that didn't get done already, shared-service reform, consolidation have to both be done. And they will be a huge part of savings."

Christie said that Princeton Borough's merger with Princeton Township less than a year ago has already resulted in savings. He said changing the state's civil service system would make it easier for other municipalities and school districts to follow suit.

"If we made civil service reform a priority -- and that's going to mean fighting the public-sector unions again -- but if you make that a priority, I think you'd have lots of towns sharing service, lots of towns consolidating, but only because of the 2 percent cap," he said. "It's the pressure of the cap that's making them look at things a different way."

Relaxing the civil service rules, which protect public workers but, Christie argues, also increase the cost of local government, is one of the signature "tool kit" items the governor called for shortly after taking office in 2010.

Christie conditionally vetoed a bill that the Democratic- controlled Legislature sent him in 2011 that would have made changes to civil service, calling the proposal "tepid, ineffective and meaningless." He instead proposed allowing voters in the 193 towns that participate in the system to opt out, something Democrats refused to approve.

Christie said municipalities that merge their police departments could realize significant savings.

"If towns can consolidate their police forces and actually save money by being able to jettison folks without regard to some of the antiquated civil service protections we have now, then I think you'll see more towns in Bergen and other places consolidating their forces," Christie said. …

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