Gov. Chris Christie gestures as he delivers his New Jersey budget address Tuesday, March 16, 2010, in Trenton, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Thousands of New Jerseyans gathered Saturday near the Statehouse to protest Gov. Chris Christie's proposed budget cuts.
Organizers say members of public employee unions hope a show of force will sway the state's top politicians to fight Christie. The rally formally started around noon, but crowds started to form by 10 a.m., and the site soon became packed with people, most of whom wore red or white shirts touting their unions.
Christie has called for workers to accept wage freezes, and he's pushed for them to contribute toward their health benefits.
Among those taking part were members of the New Jersey Education Association and the Communications Workers of America. They were joined by several community and nonprofit groups that will lose some or all their funding if Christie's plans are adopted.
Police had blocked off a long stretch of roadway near the Statehouse by early Saturday morning, and nearby parking lots soon were filled with cars and dozens of buses that brought protesters from all parts of the state.
Many people marching to the rally carried signs criticizing the governor and his positions. One read, "Christie for ex-governor," while another said, "NJ's biggest loser: Steal from the poor, give to the rich."
The latter was a reference to the so-called "Millionaire's Tax" legislation that the Republican governor vetoed on Thursday, just minutes after it was passed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
The measure would have restored a higher income tax on those making more than $1 million, an increase Christie said would continue to drive top earners out of New Jersey. He had long vowed to veto the tax, which was enacted for one year by former Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine and expired in December.
However, several groups involved in Saturday's rally say the Democrats' bill did not go far enough: they want lawmakers to reinstate the surcharge on households earning more than $400,000.
"Over 100 community organizations have endorsed this rally, and they're out there with a very clear message to the governor and Legislature: that we've got to stop those cuts and restore the tax on those earning over $400,000 a year," said Bill Holland, a spokesman for Better Choices for New Jersey, one of the groups organizing the rally.