SOMERSET — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday at a town hall that he'd do away with realty transfer fees, a major source of tax revenue, that cost a retired state trooper in the audience $5,435 after selling a house two weeks ago.
"Sorry you got hit like that," Christie told the retiree, Scott Packwood, of North Brunswick, as the governor left the meeting in Somerset.
A question from Packwood about the fee prompted Christie to say he would sign a bill scrapping it.
Christie, a Republican, called the fee "a grab by the government for no good reason," ''awful," and, sarcastically, "a great gift" from former Gov. James McGreevey, a Democrat.
The state has projected realty transfer fees will produce $287 million in the current budget and $325 million in next year's budget. The fee is the seventh-largest source of tax revenue, but a small portion of the proposed $34.4 billion budget.
Christie did not say how the revenue would be made up.
The most recent budgetary forecasts show the state is falling short of current targets, which may necessitate late-year cuts in the budget year that ends June 30.
Tax collections for March were $145 million shy of revised budget projections, or 7 percent, according to figures the Treasury released Monday. Tax collections are off by $145 million, or less than 1 percent, through the first nine months of the fiscal year, Treasury figures show.
At the town hall, Christie returned to a familiar theme — reducing public worker benefits — as he proposed further but unspecified changes to pensions and urged the Assembly to extend a 2 percent cap on raises that arbitrators can award to police and firefighter unions.
He said without further changes, retiree benefits would consume more and more of the state budget.
"Take a look at Detroit," he warned, "Detroit went bankrupt."
Christie said higher property taxes and reductions in municipal services would result unless the Assembly re-adopts the cap, which expired April 1.
The cap was approved nearly unanimously in both houses of the Legislature in 2010 as a tool to help municipalities contain public employee costs. Towns are also required to cap property tax increases a 2 percent a year.
Lawmakers sent Christie a bill allowing raises of up to 3 percent in certain circumstances, and exempting bargaining units that had negotiated raises within the cap before the law expired.
Christie conditionally vetoed the bill, striking both provisions. The Senate quickly agreed with Christie's changes. The Assembly hasn't voted.
State police union President Tony Wieners issued a statement after the town hall saying that Christie seemed to be suggesting a lack of trust local government's ability to negotiate with the unions.
"If he wanted to run local government, he should have run for mayor and not governor," Wieners said.
Christie was met with protesters outside who oppose his tax and spending policies.
The advocacy group New Jersey Citizen Action brought along a life-size poster of Christie, coined "Gov. Tax Waster," to criticize what they see as the governor's self-promotional spending priorities.
Christie has been holding town halls as he attempts to rebound from a traffic jam scandal overshadowing his administration as he contemplates a 2016 presidential run.
Christie has maintained he had no knowledge of the plot by some aides to create traffic gridlock in Fort Lee to retaliate against the mayor, who did not endorse Christie for re-election.