Gov. Chris Christie's corporate waivers jeopardize New Jersey
Newark Star Ledger, Sunday, February 26, 2012
By John Pajak
The health of your family or small business may be jeopardized by an executive order issued by Gov. Chris Christie that is now being implemented by state agencies.
Executive Order No. 2, issued the day Christie took office, directs every state agency to establish a procedure for giving individual corporations a “waiver” from complying with virtually any legally adopted public safeguard that protects us.
This means the Christie administration could give a free pass to any oil company, Wall Street bank, insurance company, wealthy real estate developer or drug manufacturer when it comes to laws on workplace health and safety, clean air and water, equal opportunity or consumer protection.
These free passes would be issued without a public hearing or opportunity for public comment.
With the stroke of a pen, Christie essentially repealed every safeguard that the Legislature established under Republican and Democratic governors alike.
It’s not hard to figure out how this would be likely to work in practice. Wealthy campaign contributors could be rewarded with the right to legally cut corners at our expense, giving them an unfair competitive advantage over other businesses.
Since rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court increasingly permit companies to give money to support politicians without disclosure, the public might not even be able to find out how much a corporation paid in campaign contributions before it got its special waiver.
This policy opens the door to an unprecedented level of corruption. From now on, every business may assume that there is a price to be paid in campaign contributions if you want a free pass to ignore the law.
In addition, Christie’s legalized bribery order creates an unfair and chaotic business climate for every responsible company in our state. Ethical businesses that respect the public interest will no longer be on a level playing field with those that are given waivers, and no company will know what rules apply to everyone. Big corporations, often from out of state, will have the resources to secure the right to violate the law, while smaller local businesses will not.
Within the next few weeks, the Department of Environmental Protection is expected to become the first agency to adopt this new waiver policy. Among the safeguards that will be in jeopardy are those aimed at preventing spills, explosions, and other workplace and community exposures to toxic chemicals.
After DEP, the next agency that is expected to implement Christie’s order is the Division of Consumer Affairs. Waivers under this law will jeopardize the ability of New Jersey residents to challenge consumer fraud by car dealers, insurance companies, lenders, cell phone carriers, home construction and repair providers, telemarketers, employment agencies and more.
The governor will be up for re-election next year. Major news media have widely reported speculation that he may be a candidate for president of the United States in the next election. This new waiver policy certainly will create new incentives for contributions from corporate CEOs and lobbyists.
When Christie took the oath of office two years ago, he promised “a new era of accountability and transparency” and said that “today, change has arrived.” It’s time for all New Jersey residents to let the governor and other elected officials know that jeopardizing the health and well-being of our families, communities and small businesses is not what we had in mind.
John Pajak is a petroleum refinery worker and president of the New Jersey Work Environment Council, a coalition of labor and environmental organizations.