Public employee bennies bill now law

Flanked by his “partner” Democratic State Senate President Stephen Sweeney and more than 60 mayors of both parties, Republican Gov. Christie signed a bill this afternoon that alters the pensions and health benefits for hundreds of thousands of public workers and retirees.

The moment will go down as a highlight of Christie's term, but the signing at the Trenton War Memorial was a display of bi-partisanship and compromise that is unlikely to last long after the ink dries on the new law.

Christie and Sweeney even joked at the bill signing that they would be at each other’s throats in a matter of hours over the wide gulf between their plans for the state budget, which must be adopted by Thursday.

“I don’t think we’ll compromise as much tomorrow, or this afternoon,” Sweeney said, smiling.

For the moment, though, there was peace. Christie spoke at length about how the landmark legislation would have gotten nowhere without Sweeney’s leadership.

“Senate President Sweeney has done something that is very rare in public life today,” Christie said. “He was able to erode just a little bit of the cynicism that the public has about public life.”

Sweeney is already feeling the blow back. A coalition of progressives launched today so Democrats can pledge never to vote for Sweeney for governor, if he should ever run.

Christie also praised Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D., Essex) who moved the bill through despite opposition in her caucus. Oliver, however, did not attend the bill signing, due to what Christie said was a scheduling conflict.

“It is an important moment for the state of New Jersey, for its citizens, for its taxpayers, and New Jersey has once again become a model for America,” Christie said.

By the summer of 2012, Christie said, taxpayers “will start to see some real effects on property tax bills.”

Christie said that from his office in the statehouse he could hear the three days of union protests leading up the bill’s passage. “I felt for those people because their union leadership had so ill-served them by the lies and purely political kind of language they were using to try to characterize what was going on here,” he said.

The Communications Workers of America union fired a salvo of its own today. Hetty Rosentstein, state director, said: "It is a downright awful day for the Democratic Party, which has abandoned the middle-class and its own core values for the sake of a political backroom deal. The party which once stood for workers' rights has torn itself apart under the leadership of self-interested political bosses.”

Specifically, the unions said political power brokers like George E. Norcross 3d of South Jersey had undue influence on the bill in exchange for votes. Without the "yes" Democrats in Norcross’s sphere of influence, the bill would have died.

Asked if he spoke to Norcross in the course of the negotiations over the bill, Christie said: “I spoke to a lot of people, absolutely. My job was to try to build consensus and get this thing done, so anyone who I thought had influence over the 120 members of the legislature, I spoke to.”