New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is taking his plan to stem the nation's highest property tax to the people. And he started on Monday in an unusual place: Corzine country.
The Republican governor held his first town hall meeting in Hoboken — home of former Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine — to talk about his push for a 2.5 percent limit on property tax increases that would require voter approval to exceed. A majority of the 40,000 people living in the 1-square-mile city, where Corzine has a waterfront condo, supported the former governor during the election.
Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer needed a double take to get it right. She initially introduced Christie as "Governor Corzine," prompting a roar from the hundred or so people at the Hoboken Catholic Academy.
"We certainly take no offense," Christie said, "because I'm here and he's not."
Zimmer supports the cap. Hoboken municipal property taxes have risen significantly over the past two years, she said.
"There's nothing partisan about being smart or being responsible with the money entrusted to our citizens," Zimmer said, before describing herself as a "lifelong Democrat."
The town hall was the first of a half dozen or so planned in the coming weeks as the July 1 deadline to pass a state budget approaches. Christie is trying to drum up public support for the idea, which has two hurdles: lawmakers have to put it on the ballot and voters must approve it in November.
"It's time to treat New Jerseyans like adults," Christie said, explaining why he thinks its time for voters to have more control over local budgets.
Christie took questions from about a dozen people in the audience. Only a couple grilled him about his cuts so far, including more than $800 million to education and cuts to NJ transit that resulted in fares going up by nearly 25 percent.
Democratic lawmakers are pushing for raising income taxes on millionaires for one year to give relief to seniors. Christie has said he'll veto any tax increase.
Ines Garcia-Keim implored Christie to reconsider the millionaire's tax.
"The money has to come from somewhere," she said. "It's not shared sacrifice when you take a segment of the population that was paying a certain amount and the next year you give them a tax cut."
Kyelia Colon, who has four kids in Hoboken public schools, sat on stage behind Christie but was candid about the fact she thinks his cuts to teacher benefits is wrong.
"He's hurting the people I trust to take care of my children," Colon said.
A week ago, Christie unveiled a package of 33 bills to cap state spending in order to reduce property taxes.
The crux of his plan includes the 2.5 tax cap. The package includes caps on increasing public employee contracts — including wages, health benefits, vacation time and other perks — and limiting the amount of unused sick leave they can cash out at $15,000. Another proposed change would allow workers to carry over unused vacation time for one year
Jennifer and Joseph Giattino were supportive of Christie and his plan to stem tax increases. Last year, their taxes went up by more than $2,000. Christie said that were the tax cap in place, they would have only gone up by $213.
"I'm not about any cuts, ever, but I think it's got to be done," Joseph Giattino said.