Change to let Christie write book in office won't get vote

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Posted: Dec 19, 2016 9:05 PM
Change to let Christie write book in office won't get vote

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A book deal for Republican Gov. Chris Christie will have to wait.

New Jersey lawmakers on Monday said they won't vote on a measure changing an ethics law that barred Christie from cashing in on a book deal while in office, at the same time giving millions of dollars in pay raises to lawmakers' staff, judges and other officials.

The measure had buy-in from leaders in the Democrat-led Legislature and was on a fast track to Christie's desk at the same time as a measure viewed by some as a vendetta by Christie against the state's newspapers.

But rank-and-file members all but revolted in closed-door meetings when faced with the book-deal legislation, and Democratic Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said a separate Christie-backed bill that would end the requirement that government legal notices be published in newspapers will be postponed until next year.

"Pick a member and every member had different issues," Prieto said. "Some of them it was the book deal. Some of them it was in reference to raises and the cost of it. So it was an array of things."

Opponents of both bills, who viewed them as linked even though lawmakers denied the coupling, called the postponement a huge victory. They derided the legislation as the worst of New Jersey politics: a tit-for-tat in which the governor gets to profit from the proceeds of a book in his final year in office while lawmakers boost their staffers' pay.

"This is a big win," said Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel. "This is the end of the bullying."

A message left with Christie's office wasn't immediately returned.

The book-and-salary measure will "not be reconsidered" in the state Assembly, a spokesman for Prieto said.

The newspaper legal notices measure was fought by the state's newspapers, and one Christie opponent said it was "revenge" by the governor against the newspapers that have critically covered him.

Democratic state Sen. Richard Codey said there weren't enough votes for either measure in the Senate and they wouldn't come up for a vote on Monday.

Legislative budget forecasters said the book deal bill carries a more than $10 million annual price tag for 2018 and beyond.

The legislation would have changed an ethics law barring the governor from drawing income beyond his $175,000 per year salary and permitted him to profit from book sales. There are no apparent additional costs to taxpayers, but some lawmakers have argued it's wrong to let the governor profit while on the taxpayers' time.

Christie, whose approval rating is lower than at any point in his governorship, according to recent polls, hasn't announced any details about a possible book.

The legislation also would have increased by $30,000 to $140,000 appropriations for each of the state's 120 lawmakers to spend on staff. It would have allowed the governor to pay Cabinet officials a maximum of $175,000, up from $141,000.

Judges would have gotten 3 percent raises in 2017 and 2018. Their salaries would then be tied to the Consumer Price Index in 2019 and beyond, meaning future raises would be automatic. The legislation carries a cost for county taxpayers because the salaries of county officials like clerks, surrogates and sheriffs are tied to judges' salaries.

The state's county prosecutors, whom Christie appoints, also would get pay increases, from $165,000 to as much as $175,000 by 2018.

The costs are a small fraction of the state's nearly $35 billion budget but come after Christie and lawmakers enacted an unpopular gas tax increase.

Supporters say staff, judges and other officials haven't had raises in years, in some cases since 2002.