TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — When Gov. Chris Christie speaks at town hall meetings, he lampoons lawmakers for not quickly passing a series of bills designed to make it easier for local governments and school boards to comply with a coming 2 percent cap on property tax increases.
“Now, it’s not like they’re not doing anything,” Christie said with mock empathy at a meeting last month in Washington Township. He then told the audience about a bill winding through the Legislature.
“S-1643 requires that all cats and dogs released from shelters and pounds be sterilized.” He paused as the crowd laughed, then continued, adding “with certain exceptions.”
He similarly skewered other proposed laws, saying lawmakers are dealing with trivial concerns and not addressing his priorities.
The speeches, which mix humor and outrage, are among the reasons Christie has become a star among Republicans nationally. Video of the choice moments — including him laughing at the Legislature — are regularly embedded on blogs. The videos are posted on Christie’s YouTube channel, giving him a far bigger and more far-flung audience than the several thousand New Jerseyans who have attended his town hall meetings.
The jokes strike a nerve for Democratic lawmakers who say they’re frustrated that he doesn’t tell the full story. They say that dealing with small issues doesn’t distract them from the state’s big fiscal problems.
“The more than 8.5 million residents of our state have a broad range of concerns affecting their daily lives, and they turn to the state Legislature to respond,” said Assembly Democratic spokesman Tom Hester Jr. “That is the role of the state Legislature — to be responsive to the people of this state.”
Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment on the Democrats’ criticism.
About 6,300 bills have been introduced in the Legislature this year, and only a fraction will get adopted. The four Christie regularly picks on lists mostly Democrats among their sponsors.
All the bills — even those that make entertaining punch lines — have some purpose to someone.
Take the bill introduced by Assemblywoman Linda Stender, a Democrat from Fanwood, to require that counterfeit cigarettes be destroyed after they’re confiscated. It’s one of the bills the governor criticizes.
“I sponsored the bill because keeping counterfeit cigarettes from black market distribution is a good idea,” Stender said.
Hester said a Republican consultant, Dale Florio, had suggested Stender introduce the bill. Florio did not return calls about the bill, which was passed by the Senate in October but has not received a vote from the full Assembly.
Another of the bills Christie brings up has an unusual provenance.
Earlier in the decade, there was a scandal in Germany, where dentists were accused of giving patients cheap Chinese-made dentures but charging them full price. In 2008, a bill was introduced in the New Jersey Legislature to require disclosures about foreign-made dentures.
One of is sponsors is state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat from Teaneck who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor last year. She said her interview for this story, which lasted less than 10 minutes, was the longest she spent dealing with the bill. No hearings have been scheduled on the measure.
One of the bills Christie attacks moved through the Senate even as he called it out.
The Senate last month approved the shelter pet sterilization bill, which was first introduced five years ago. Bill Lombardi, director of the Gloucester County Animal Shelter, has been lobbying for its passage for years. He says many shelters already require pets to be sterilized before they’re sent home with new owners. The law is needed because of the shelters that don’t have such policies, he said.
Lombardi said the bill wouldn’t cost taxpayers anything because shelters — even publicly subsidized ones — can recoup the cost of the surgeries through adoption fees.
The Assembly so far has not taken any action on the measure.
Another of the bills is on track to reach Christie’s desk.
It would create penalties of up to 18 months in prison and fines of $10,000 for criminals who use “bump keys” in burglaries. The homemade keys can be used to pick any lock, and knowledge of them has spread through how-to videos posted online.
The Senate unanimously adopted the bill back in February and an Assembly committee advanced it to the full Senate in October.
One of its sponsors is Democratic Assemblyman Reed Gusciora. He says it addresses a real issue and has hardly taken any time for lawmakers to address — but he’s not sure it should be a priority despite that.
“I share the governor’s concern,” he said. “I think that we should be working 24-7 on property tax reform and creating jobs.”
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)