BY TOM HESTER SR.
In her first major address since becoming New Jersey‘s first lieutenant governor 10 months ago, Kim Guadagno Thursday placed local officials on the side of Gov. Chris Christie's "tool kit" proposals designed to cut government spending and with a few words, asked them to join the administration in getting the Democratic-controlled Legislature to act on the measures.
Addressing an audience of about 1,200 officials, Christie's cabinet members, leading Democratic and Republican legislators and former governors Thomas Kean and James Florio in Atlantic City, Guadagno said of the cost-cutting proposals, "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," Guadagno said. "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," Guadagno said. "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."
Guadagno was the keynote speaker at a luncheon at the Sheraton Atlantic City Convention Center Hotel held as part of the annual four-day New Jersey State League of Municipalities convention.
Christie did not attend. He is in Scottsdale, Ariz., where Thursday evening he will give the keynote address at the annual Goldwater Dinner.
"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," Guadagno said. "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,'' Guadagno said. "He was honest, real, and ready to stand up to the naysayers who have stood in the way of change and reform for decades."
Guadagno told the officials that in his first 10 months in office, Christie overcame an $11 billion state budget gap, signed the first law to attempt to bring about public employee pension and benefit reform, gained the approval of an annual 2 percent cap on property tax hikes, began cutting government bureaucratic red tape and move to change how cities and towns provide affordable housing.
"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," Guadagno said. "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."
Democratic leaders in the Legislature argue that in the past few months they have introduced their own "tool kit" aimed at reducing government spending. Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney has stated the Legislature will move on "tool kit-"related bills by the end of the year, but both sides will have to agree to compromises. Less than five weeks remain before the Legislature's year-end holiday recess.
"This accomplishment also came together with the bi-partisan understanding that a tool kit of reforms would be delivered to municipalities by year end," Guadagno said. "At the time, both Republicans and Democrats acknowledged what Bill Dressel (League director) has been saying all along — that the tool kit of reforms is critical to helping lower costs at the local level.
"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," Guadagno said. "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."
Guadagno, referring to Christie's proposal, said, "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," Guadagno said. "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," Guadagno said. "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," Guadagno added. "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."