Nov. 18, 2010 - Excerpted Remarks of Acting Governor Kim Guadagno to 95th Annual League Conference Luncheon
November 18, 2010
As you all know and ought to be proud of, this is the largest annual gathering of public officials in the United States. What you do over these four days – what you learn and share and the collaboration you take part in with other local elected officials has a direct and meaningful impact in your communities and on our citizens.
Right now, in these difficult times and with the challenges we face as a State, that sort of cooperation and commitment to serving New Jersey families is exactly what we need.
On behalf of Governor Christie – who extends his regrets for being unable to attend today – and the entire Administration, I want to thank each and every one of you for being here in the interest of reaffirming your commitment to the people you serve.
Last November, Governor Christie, then just newly elected, stood here, and first began our partnership by committing to each of you that we would take on the tough fights together. There was no doubt as he told you then, that he was willing to jump off the cliff with you and that he believes in working together.
He also began to talk frankly and candidly that day about the hard choices we would need to make together in order to rebuild New Jersey. He was honest, real, and ready to stand up to the naysayers who have stood in the way of change and reform for decades.
We began to work together by putting New Jerseyans first and talking about an agenda that would define the coming months…
- A real, hard cap on property taxes for New Jersey families;
- A tool kit for local governments to help control property taxes;
- Making the tough choices needed to tackle an $11 billion budget deficit without new taxes on the already most taxed residents in America;
- And – perhaps even more importantly – setting out a vision for a vibrant, prosperous and affordable New Jersey
None of these ideas were revolutionary or unexpected; they are exactly what the Governor and I campaigned on and what New Jerseyans voted for in November 2009.
But somehow, this whole line of thinking, this whole approach to governing, seems to have upended the political culture in Trenton. It shifted the whole context of the public debate in a way that seemed to surprise the special interests in Trenton and the career politicians who cling so tightly to the status quo. It seems to have caught them off guard.
They are off guard because the conversation in our towns and communities is much different than what happens under the golden dome of the statehouse. As local officials, you all are personally familiar with this disconnect: the disconnect between the world of the Trenton politicians and the real world in our towns and communities.
This time is like no other in our state’s history, not because the issues are new, but precisely because we’ve been here before. New Jerseyans are sick of a government that is bloated, idle, and without accountability; they are tired of being given the sugar-coated version of problems; and tired of being told that a little more spending, a little more borrowing or a little more taxing will get us through another year and meet all our needs -- painlessly.
New Jerseyans will no longer stand for elected officials who do not treat them like adults; they are ready and able to handle the truth.
And they will no longer stand for defenders of a status quo who say that fixing New Jersey will not require the sacrifice that comes with confronting challenges of such great magnitude.
I believe everyone in this room has been in and around New Jersey long enough to know that, in Trenton, this public debate is critical to any success we have at reforming the system. And impacting the debate and increasing awareness is a lot like pushing a boulder up a hill. One person can’t do it alone. Two people can’t do it. An entire administration can’t do it. It takes the effort and diligence of folks who believe in the cause and are willing to stand up alongside us and push the boulder up that hill, no matter how steep.
Through your partnership, we have had success on an agenda aimed at accomplishing those goals. It’s not been easy or without difficult choices. But it has created the foundation for rebuilding New Jersey. And while we clearly still have a lot further to go in reforming New Jersey and delivering an efficient, effective and responsive government that our people deserve, we have delivered results for a stronger future:
- We made the difficult decisions and put forward the necessary solutions to close an $11 billion budget deficit by cutting spending and NOT raising taxes. The current year budget, approved with bipartisan support, spent a full 15% less of state money than the prior administration did in the peak year of 2008;
- In March, the Governor signed into law the important first steps to achieve pension and benefit reform;
- In July, he signed into law property tax relief in the form of Cap 2.0;
- He put forward a plan to reform affordable housing in New Jersey and end the COAH nightmare that all of you continue to deal with (we all know the bill, S-1, passed the senate with bipartisan support);
- We increased transparency in government and cut job killing red tape – we also made the Red Tape Review Group permanent, and continue to make progress in streamlining government and lifting the onerous red tape that puts a wet blanket on job growth. Businesses, like people, come to where they are welcome and we must continue to make them feel welcome in New Jersey.
While we’ve made some progress, we still have much more to do.
For those of you from both parties who have partnered with us and put yourselves on the line for us in supporting these reform efforts, I can tell you without any reservation that you can and should have faith that this Governor, this administration and you have no greater partner or advocate than Governor Christie. We have, and will continue, to stand together.
You can depend on that same level of commitment as we push for the implementation of the rest of the Governor’s Reform Agenda.
At the top of that agenda is the property tax tool kit.
The passage of Cap 2.0 is a huge accomplishment. It’s a hard cap on property taxes that cannot be breached without voter approval.
This accomplishment also came together with the bi-partisan understanding that a tool kit of reforms would be delivered to municipalities by year end. At the time, both Republicans and Democrats acknowledged what Bill Dressel has been saying all along -- that the tool kit of reforms is critical to helping lower costs at the local level.
As you are well aware, nearly three of every four dollars in your budgets goes to various personnel costs: salaries and employee benefits. Without the tool kit reforms, like civil service reform, collective bargaining reform, and pension and benefit reform, these costs will continue to grow, outpacing capped revenue growth, with the potentially disastrous result of layoffs and service cuts.
No one wants to see that happen.
Passing the tool kit is a must. Many of you have stood up and spoken out on these issues. You have written letters, spoken to your local newspapers, showed up in the halls of the statehouse to lobby your legislators and stood side-by-side with Governor Christie and me.
And, moreover, you’ve shown that this is not a partisan issue. Mayors and municipal leaders for both parties all across the state have shown their support for these reforms and pressed for action. You recognize that the problems of our times are too great for partisan business as usual politics.
And we thank you for it.
But as friends must do when working together, I must be honest. We must go further and we must be unrelenting. The Governor and I will speak out at every opportunity on the legislative inaction on this issue. We know you will be the ones who have to deal with the end result. As you know all too well, when the spending side of your budget does not meet the revenue side, you will be the ones left with the tough decisions. You will be the ones who will face the cut in services, the layoffs and ultimately the voters.
In the end, I do believe that the Legislature knows that these are common sense solutions we have put before them. I believe that they will take the action needed to allow those who know best – each of you who are closest to your local needs and communities – to have the flexibility and management tools to control costs, determine your own priorities, limit your spending and, ultimately, deliver the property tax relief that our families so desperately need.
We are your partners in this.
It’s our view that every day that passes without action on these issues is a day wasted. New Jerseyans didn’t elect us to sit on our hands, to ever-study and delay and put-off making the tough decisions. They elected us to make those decisions, to tackle the issues and, in short, to get to work.
Governor Christie is making those decisions, putting himself on the record behind major, substantive policy solutions and is fully aware that these are not easy, or necessarily popular, positions to take. But they must be taken and the public must be given an honest assessment of why they are necessary.
If we treat people like adults and not children unable to deal with the realities of the world we live in, our communities, our state and, yes, our society will be better off for it.
As local leaders, your input, your insights and your partnership has been an indispensible part of whatever successes we’ve had. And I can’t help but encourage you to keep talking.
Keep talking to us, keep talking to each other, and keep talking to the people of this state because that is only way we are going to move forward – when people with a common, positive vision for our state come together to deal with issues that stand between where we are now and where we want to be as a community of New Jerseyans. We can make this state a better place for our children.
Today, in these difficult times, we have the opportunity to stand up for what is right and what is needed, and truly accomplish great things for New Jersey.