TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey's Democrat-led Legislature advanced a bill on Thursday that would let Republican Gov. Chris Christie cash in on a book deal before he leaves office while also raising legislative staff, judges' and other officials' salaries.
Assembly and Senate spending committees signed off on the measures, which could get a vote in their respective chambers as soon as Monday, with supporters arguing that it's been more than a decade since some aides have gotten a raise. They also said there's no problem with the governor drawing an income from book proceeds.
"When it comes to the governor writing a book, why not?" said Democratic Sen. Brian Stack, of Hudson County.
But opponents contended the bill was a deal between Democratic lawmakers and Christie, who's second term ends in January 2018, that will burden taxpayers who recently got hit with a 23-cent-per-gallon hike in the gas tax. The law raising the gas tax also cut others, like the sales and estate taxes.
Republican state Sen. Jennifer Beck, of Monmouth County, opposed the bill and said it would benefit the "political elite" while taxpayers are shouldering greater burdens.
"I think it's a slap in the face to our residents," she said.
Democratic state Sen. Paul Sarlo, of Bergen and Passaic counties, acknowledged the tit-for-tat nature of the legislation even as he voted in favor of it.
"I'm being practical," Sarlo said. "There's a lot of good in this bill. If we need to include that to make sure it gets bipartisan support and governor's signature? So be it."
The bill came for vote just days after it was introduced and on the same day as legislation that would scrap a requirement that local government publish legal notices in newspapers, which Christie supports and opponents say amounts to an attack on the news media by a governor who's angry over how he's been portrayed. The bills' sponsors say these issues have been discussed for years, so it's not surprising they're coming up now.
The salary legislation could see a vote in both chambers as soon as Monday.
The measure would end a requirement that the governor draw only his $175,000 per year salary.
It also would raise the allowance for lawmakers to pay their staffers by $30,000 to $140,000. It would allow Christie to raise his department heads' salaries from $141,000 to as much as $175,000.
Judges would get 3 percent raises in 2017 and 2018, and the state's county prosecutors would also get pay increases. They currently make $165,000, but would see that go up to $175,000 by 2018.