New Jersey delays vote on Christie’s ‘revenge’ bill against newspapers

The Associated Press

New Jersey lawmakers have postponed a bill that opponents call an act of revenge by Gov. Chris Christie against the state’s newspapers for their unflattering coverage of him as a two-time governor, failed presidential candidate and adviser to President-elect Donald Trump.

The measure seeks to scrap a law requiring local governments to publish legal notices in newspapers. Instead, the bill would allow local governments to post notices on their own websites.

The bill was scheduled for a vote yesterday, but following a furious lobbying effort by newspapers, action was delayed until after the new year.

Christie argues the current law burdens taxpayers, whose money goes to local government to pay newspapers for running their legal notices. In an opinion-editorial published over the weekend on the online publishing platform, Christie suggested that the New Jersey Press Association, which opposes the legislation, was “shameful” and self-serving.

“The Constitution guarantees a free press, not a government-subsidized one,” he wrote. Publishers testified that the legislation could decimate the industry, costing up to 300 jobs.

Lawmakers across the country have proposed eliminating the print requirement, but the New Jersey Press Association says New Jersey would be the first state to make the change.

One Christie opponent in the Legislature called it a “politically motivated crackdown on the press in New Jersey.” Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who is running for governor in the Democratic primary next year, also called it a “revenge bill.” Phil Murphy, a fellow Democrat also seeking the governorship, called it a “vendetta.”

Christie argues the bill would save $80 million spent on legal notices by governments, businesses and residents. Christie’s spokesman Brian Murray said $60 million of that figure is for pending foreclosure notices, which are required to be publicized. The administration argues that the bill amounts to property tax relief since local government revenues come from property taxes.

But the state’s Office of Legislative Services says the fiscal impact is “indeterminate.”

When a similar bill was proposed in 2011, the New Jersey Press Association estimated in that local governments spent $20 million a year on the requirement, but about 60 percent of that amount was reimbursed by private entities, including banks paying for foreclosure notices.

Rates have not been raised since 1983, according to the association. Lawmakers last week didn’t consider a proposal from the association to cut the rate paid by governments by 50 percent while raising rates on businesses.