Trenton — Recent allegations that Christie administration figures leaned on local officials to “expedite” favored projects reflect a broader pattern of soliciting high-level political intervention to suspend normal development rules, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). From his first days in office, Governor Chris Christie has invited executives to seek out Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, whom he named as his “Red Tape” czar vested with powers to cut through land use or regulatory reviews.
Through a series of executive orders and transition plans, incoming Gov. Christie established a policy to provide closed door access to special interests and scale back or waive state rules. He designated his Lt. Governor as the point person to carry out this agenda. For example–
- As Red Tape czar, Lt. Gov. Guadagno is empowered to meet secretly with business interests and work behind the scenes to promote those interests;
- Ms. Guadagno has the unilateral power to kill any pending or proposed state rule without appeal and is tasked with pressuring agencies to speed, relax or suspend regulatory requirements; and
- Any reviews requiring public participation, such as the Hoboken land use planning process, were targeted for “streamlining.”
“In pressuring Mayor Zimmer to expedite Hoboken’s approvals of the Rockefeller project, Lt. Gov. Guadagno was doing exactly what Gov. Christie told her to do,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe. “Since all rules, permits and enforcement actions are now negotiable, the Christie governing motto should be ‘Let’s Make a Deal.’”
Wolfe points out that Gov. Christie’s antipathy to public involvement in decision-making is further illustrated in his naming a “Sandy Czar” overseeing his Office of Recovery and Rebuilding to make all funding decisions while eschewing the “transparent and inclusive process” required by federal rules. As a result, the public and local officials such as Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer are powerless supplicants with no say in fund distribution. Consequently, all decisions are made behind closed doors.
“Gov. Christie is using emergency Sandy recovery powers to promote his political interests,” Wolfe added, noting that his organization is pushing for an investigation into state noncompliance with federal reconstruction rules. “Thus, the Governor’s friends get funds while his enemies get the back of his hand.”
Suspension of government rules also appear to further core Christie policy objectives of deregulation and privatization. For example, state land use planning has been abandoned in favor of an economic development strategy. Yet, there is scant evidence either that these rules were holding back economic growth or that their suspension is spurring growth.
“The Christie administration prefers to operate in a fact-free world where their slogans are accepted unexamined,” Wolfe concluded. “We are being forced to rediscover that one major reason for the rules was to keep cronyism in check.”
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability