Assembly Considering Salary Hikes for Christie Staff

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -

A bill giving pay raises to members of Gov. Chris Christie’s cabinet and tweaking the pension law to benefit some elected officials stalled Monday as it was set to be debated publicly for the first time.

The bill scheduled to be fast-tracked through the Legislature this week was held by the Assembly Budget Committee. Assemblyman Gary Schaer, who chairs the panel, said the bill was pulled to give the sponsor time to make unspecified changes.

A draft proposed raises for Christie’s top staff of up to $34,000 at the governor’s discretion and reverses a 2010 pension change that kept some government officials from remaining in the state retirement system after changing jobs. It gives raises to judges and the next governor, and boosts the budget for legislative staff salaries by $30,000, to $140,000 per lawmaker.

However, lawmakers would continue to earn $49,000 for the part-time job of legislator.

Republican support on the budget panel was said to wane over the weekend, as Christie prepares to deliver what is expected to be a difficult budget proposal on Tuesday.

“It would have been a ‘no’ vote,” said Republican Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco, of Morris County, a member of the panel. “I don’t think at this point in time we have the revenues to support it.”

It’s unclear whether the Senate intends to move ahead with the unusual step of holding a public hearing and final vote in one day, Thursday. The full Assembly is in session that day, but the bill can’t be put to a final vote there unless 60 or the 80 members agree to grant an emergency, which would move it directly to the floor without the requisite public hearing.

Christie has warned that his proposed budget will be difficult, as a required pension payment balloons to about $2.4 billion in the next fiscal year and revenues are lagging expectations by as much as $400 million with five months to go in the current fiscal year.

The annual deliberations on the state’s spending-and-revenue plan come at a time when Democratic lawmakers have said they are less likely to go along with the Republican governor on some issues.

Christie claimed a mandate from voters when he easily won re-election in November. But his standing could be weakened by investigations into massive traffic jams near the George Washington Bridge apparently created by Christie aides as political retribution and from accusations that cabinet members used the prospect of local storm relief to pressure a mayor to support a real estate deal.