"This bill represents tepid, ineffective and meaningless change," the Governor said in his veto message on the bill, A-3590. "I proposed real reform which would give local officials another tool to constrain property taxes. The legislature has sent me special interest approved ‘reform’ that will do nothing to constrain property taxes. The time for real reform of civil service is overdue. I cannot and will not sign this bill in this form."
In May last year, Governor Christie proposed a comprehensive set of proposals – the property tax reform tool kit – to empower local governments to control their biggest cost drivers and contributors to property tax increases. Among the most important of those recommendations was reform of New Jersey’s antiquated civil service system. Interestingly, the shared services proposals touted in the legislature as a panacea for local government costs control is hamstrung by the bill in its current form – and its lack of a civil service opt-out provision.
As the Governor noted in his veto message, even the legislature’s much-touted Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization and Consolidation Commission (LUARCC), in a December letter to the Governor and legislature, determined that civil service seniority-protection rules are among the most significant barriers to shared services between municipalities.
Further buckling to special interests, the bill fails to adequately address temporary layoffs – furloughs – as a tool available for municipalities to avoid significant permanent layoffs. The bill suggests that it permits negotiated furloughs – a right already permitted under the Employer-Employee Relations Act.
"What local governments need, however, is the ability to unilaterally institute temporary layoffs so that more senior union representatives are not empowered to force permanent layoffs by failing to agree to a temporary layoff plan," the Governor noted in his conditional veto, which authorized local officials to institute furloughs in a fair and equitable manner.
The bill in its current form also adds bureaucracy with the creation of a task force to abolish civil service titles and revise certain practices of the state Civil Service Commission – a task the Commission is already authorized to do and which it is currently engaged in, resulting in the elimination of 1,000 civil service titles since the Governor took office. Creation of the task force will merely serve to slow down and hinder the Commission’s ongoing efforts, which are already authorized by law.
While the bill includes some useful provisions – such as extending the working test period, providing for 9-month seasonal appointments and making terminal leave payments optional under certain circumstances – the bill fails to deliver the fundamental civil service reform provided in the Governor’s tool kit of reforms.
A copy of the veto letter [pdf 170kB] can be found as an attachment to this release.
Medicaid Expansion Bill Absolute Veto
Governor Christie also issued an absolute veto of Assembly Bill 3273, a bill that would have worsened the considerable financial issues facing New Jersey’s Medicaid program and undermined the fiscal year 2011 budget agreement enacted in June. In a bipartisan agreement with the legislature, Governor Christie closed an unprecedented $11 billion deficit without raising taxes, while still protecting funding for health care services for New Jersey’s women and children and low-income families.
The New Jersey Medicaid program faces a huge budget shortfall of nearly $1.1 billion in Fiscal Year 2012 due to the loss of nearly $1 billion dollars in non-recurring federal stimulus funding and a continued "maintenance of effort" requirement for that funding mandated by the Federal government both as a condition of taking stimulus funds and as part of the federal health care reform law.
"This bill would exacerbate that dramatic budget gap by expanding the Medicaid program and increasing Medicaid costs completely outside the State’s annual budget process," said Governor Christie. "It would be financially irresponsible to increase Medicaid costs and expand Medicaid eligibility in the face of such a serious deficit in the Medicaid program and the ongoing budgetary challenges faced by the state generally.
"As New Jersey’s Medicaid caseload continues to grow, federal funding is decreasing dramatically. This legislation will add to that gap in both the short term and the long term, including the expansion of the program to an entirely new population of individuals. As the State continues to confront its significant Medicaid shortfall, this piecemeal approach does not make sense from an overall fiscal and healthcare policy perspective."
Despite the economic crisis, Governor Christie has been able to maintain funding for health care services for New Jersey’s women and children and low-income families. The Fiscal Year 2011 budget continued Governor Christie’s commitment to ensuring that the most vulnerable have access to comprehensive health care services, including access through Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), local state Health Department clinics, free standing clinics, and hospital-based clinics.
Furthermore, the Governor’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget provided an increase of $85 million in charity care and hospital funding, $40 million in funding for FQHCs, funding for cancer screenings for low-income families through the New Jersey Cancer Education and Early Detection program (NJCEED), which among other things funds mammograms and pap smears, colorectal exams and prostate screenings, and over $20 million in funding for health services for low-income families. These health services include programs that serve low-income women and children.
A copy of the veto letter [pdf 115kB] is attached.
Barnegat Bay Bill Conditional Veto
Governor Christie also conditionally vetoed A-3415, calling some of the conditions set forth in the legislation unrealistic. The bill would require the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to adopt a total maximum daily loads (TMDL) standard for the Barnegat Bay ecosystem within two years and to require the DEP to adopt nutrient standards for New Jersey marine waters.
While the objective of the proposed bill compliments Governor Christie’s 10-point Comprehensive Barnegat Bay Plan announced in December, many of the timeframes and requirements mandated by the bill are not realistic or doable with existing resources, and it does not account for the need for more science and data to back up the decision on whether to set up a TMDL.
A copy of the veto letter [pdf 72kB] is attached.
# # #