Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Monday night (3/22/10), New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a package of bills delivering sweeping reforms to the state's ridiculously indebted pensions and health benefits system. These were the first bills Christie signed into law since taking office and this should have been big news.

In 2006, then-Governor Jon Corzine convened a special summer session to help tackle NJ's highest-in-the-nation property taxes. Four bi-partisan, bi-cameral committees were established and dozens or reporters, myself included, sat through literally hundreds of hours of testimony. The panel charged with pensions and health benefits reform was the sole committee to produce proposals that were unanimously supported.

It looked as though reform was near, but at the last moment and on a Sunday night, Corzine fired off a letter to the State Senate President and Assembly Speaker asking them to let him handle the public employee contract changes at the bargaining table.

Smaller alterations to the public employee benefits system were advanced in 2008, but even the bills' prime sponsor admits the backlash was so great that legislative leaders forced him to water them down which dramatically reduced the amount of money the state would save.

That history brings me back to Monday night. Moments after they passsed the legislature, Christie signed the bills that would end pensions for part-timers, cap the amount of unused sick days and vacation time that can be cashed out upon retirement, require all government workers to contribute to their health coverage plans and more.

I thought Christie's outer office would be packed with journalists. Sadly there were only six of us there. Just two of us were actually around for the 2006 special session. I knew the state of the depleted State House press corps was bad, but I found out today just how bad.

The clerk for the State Senate asked me why there was no television coverage of the bill signings. I told him there were no TV cameras or reporters at the event. I found video coverage for him, but where I found it does not bode well for journalists as watchdogs of the government. The only video of the bill signings is on the Governor's homepage on the state's website.

I want to be very clear. I'm not taking a shot at my colleagues. Most of those who are no longer reporters will freely tell you that they wish they still were.

No comments: