Transcript: NJ Gov. Chris Christie’s 2014 state of the state address – Part II
Part II: Partial transcript of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s state of the state address on Jan. 14, 2014:
We need to have an effort that includes everyone responsible for property taxes – the Senate, the Assembly, our administration and local governments – to provide them with the authority to run their governments like a business – to consolidate, to share services, to cut duplication, and ultimately, to reduce property taxes.
Don’t think it’s possible? Let’s look at what happened last year in Princeton. Now, Princeton Borough, Princeton Township talked about this for a long time but finally they consolidated into a single government. No 2 tax departments, no 2 police forces, no 2 offices answering the phone. The savings in one year? $3 million. That’s on a budget of $64 million. That’s a 4.7% savings on their budget. And the citizens of Princeton got this in return – more services, despite a smaller budget, and – imagine this – a reduction in their municipal taxes.
Now, that’s not just an opinion. The Local Unit Alignment Organization and Consolidation Commission – if you think that’s easy to say – they said that the civil service seniorities were at the top of the list of barriers to share services. So let’s help our towns clear away some arcane rules that stand between them and lower property taxes.
Now, when it comes to driving costs, let’s not forget – I can’t imagine you could – the expensive practice of six figure sick leave payouts for government employees. Sick time should be used when you are sick. And if you are lucky enough to be healthy, that should be your reward. Sick leave has been abused too many times and the cost is real. Almost $1 billion in liability facing New Jersey towns – $880 million to be exact as we stand here today. And it will only get higher if the system is not fixed.
These reforms are common sense. So let’s lift this billion-dollar albatross off the necks of New Jersey’s towns. Let’s together in a bipartisan way enact the “Zero means zero” plan and stop these payouts in their tracks and the harm it does to our taxpayers.
Now, our pension system is burned by some who collect disability retirement because they claim they’re totally and permanently disabled. But then they turn around and go back and work full-time. This is wrong and it hurts our system and the people who really deserve the payouts. So first, we’ve established by executive order a special unit to prosecute pension fraud.
But we need to go further, so let’s go further. We need to solidify our pension system and reduce costs by reforming our disability retirement system to end this fraud and abuse.
Let me be clear: We’re not talking about taking away benefits that people deserve. But if folks are going to abuse the system, it hurts every person who needs the system when they’re really, really injured permanently.
Not only will this help that pension system, but it will also help to reduce costs and reduce property taxes.
And here’s one of the open secrets in local government since the enactment of the 2% property tax cap – some towns get around the cap by enacting user fees to fund traditional services that they used to put in their budget.
So let’s end this practice. All of you in this room who voted for the cap did not want the cap to be gone around. So let’s not make people’s property taxes even more expensive by not enforcing the cap and ending these user fees.
Now, I’ll have more to say about New Jersey’s taxes when I present my budget to you next month, and that’s for a reason – I’ve always believed that we have to consider changes to our tax system in the context of our overall budget picture. So we’ll be back to you in February and present some choices regarding taxes.
But let me tell you one choice we will not make because it is one answer that will not help grow jobs in our state and that’s raising taxes.
You see, the evidence is clear that increasing taxes hurts job growth. It’s equally clear that we need to stand up and not allow the tax burden on the citizens of New Jersey to get larger; we need to make it smaller.
Now, it’s clear that property tax and other tax increases hurt our growth. It is equally clear that improving our educational system is the key to helping our growth.
Now, together, again, we’ve made some great progress these past 4 years – a record amount of school aid; long overdue reform of our system of teacher tenure; an increase in the number of charter schools; and an Urban Hope Act that is bringing renaissance schools to some of our most challenged cities.
And some of the results we’re seeing already are really promising. Last year, New Jersey’s high school graduation rate increased by a full percentage point to 87.5%. Student achievement is strong in many of our public schools and New Jersey students are among the country’s greatest achievers.
Now, just a few years ago, a graduate of my old high school – Livingston High School – won the Nobel Prize for chemistry. We’re making a large investment in public education in New Jersey. New Jersey spends over $25 billion a year all told. Our per pupil expenditure is the highest in the nation at over $17,000 per year.
Now, in some cases, I believe too many, our children are not receiving the education they deserve. While many public schools are strong, too many – too many – are still failing. While the vast majority of teachers are performing well, some are under-performing and they should be removed from our children’s classrooms.
See, the need to be better is particularly acute in New Jersey cities. Our urban schools demands our attention, and believe me, they have mine. Where bold action was necessary, we’ve taken bold action. And we made a commitment to the kids in our cities that they have a right to the same quality of education as kids in our suburbs.