FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP, N.J. – Protesters stationed outside of embattled Gov. Chris Christie’s 119th town hall in Somerset County used Tax Day as an opportunity to skewer the Republican for what they see as him wasting of millions of taxpayer dollars to promote his own political career and doing damage control on so-called “Bridgegate.”
Approximately 20 people from New Jersey Citizen Action and New Jersey Working Families gathered outside the Somerset National Guard Armory with signs, including one life-sized photo of Christie wearing a sash with the words “Gov. Tax Waster.”
They pointed to Christie spending over $1 million in legal fees – paid by taxpayers on an internal investigation authorized by Christie – looking into the controversial lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, which was allegedly planned by some of the governor’s aides and allies seemingly in an act of political retribution.
Last month, the internal probe cleared Christie – a potential 2016 presidential candidate who has fiercely denied any prior knowledge of the scheme – of any wrongdoing.
The protesters also pointed to $25 million in taxpayer dollars to fund a Hurricane Sandy ad campaign featuring the governor and his family during an election year. Christie’s office is under multiple state and federal probes for the lane closure scandal and allegations he misused Sandy relief funds. Also criticized was how the governor used millions in taxpayer dollars last year to fund a special Senate election scheduled less than three weeks before the regularly scheduled November one.
Critics have charged that the governor did not want to appear on the same ballot of then popular, Democratic Senatorial-candidate Cory Booker. The governor at the time argued that the move was in no way political and said he wanted to give voters the opportunity to select their own senator as soon as possible.
“A simple glance at Gov. Christie’s pricey record of self-promotion and self-serving expenditures – all on the taxpayers’ dime – show where his true priorities lie,” said Dena Mottola Jaborska, director of advocacy for New Jersey Citizen Action. “Christie can’t have it both ways, claiming to protect New Jersey’s tax payers while at the same time wasting their money on his personal ambitions.”
“Even worse, the governor paid for tax cuts for the rich by raising taxes on the working poor and the middle class,” said the state’s Working Families director Analilia Mejia.
At the town hall, Christie was asked several questions about taxes and spending. The lane closure plan and Hurricane Sandy relief funds did not come up.
The governor criticized the Assembly for not voting on a policy that caps raises achieved through arbitration on police and firefighters. The 2% cap on the raises expired on April 1, and Christie has frequently said it’s a way to keep property taxes (the state has some of the highest in the nation) in check.
“Politically, [the Assembly] doesn’t want to do it because they want to give away more of your money,” said Christie on reinstating on the arbitration cap, arguing lawmakers are caving into groups like police unions who have donated to their campaigns.
When asked about President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, Christie said its possible taxes could go up as a result. He also warned that the state is spending too much on the public workers’ pension payments, noting that 94 cents of every dollar of new spending goes toward pensions, health benefits and health services.
“I don’t know how long we all think we can sustain this type of thing,” he told the crowd of about 400. “When I ask the Legislature to work for me, they say it’s not a problem. They say we’ll grow and that will help us out of the problem…the only thing that’s going to grow is your tax bill,” he warned.
Christie was met with a friendly audience, except for three protesters who briefly interrupted at the end of the town hall, criticizing the governor for vetoing an anti-fracking waste ban. He touted himself for making government smaller by cutting 6,000 state employees since being elected and having the attitude that “no program is sacrosanct.”
Meanwhile, a Rutgers-Eagleton poll released this months showed that Christie’s approval ratings, which were in free fall, have stabilized, hovering at 55%. Meanwhile, 41% disapprove. However, the survey showed the majority – 63% – said Christie’s own internal review was not objective. Just 22% believe Christie’s explanation of what happened.