2011 was anything but boring for the Garden State, and many New Jersey residents can't wait to welcome in 2012. Power outages, protests, battles under the gold dome, scandal; we saw it all. This could probably be a top 100 countdown, but we'll simplify it for you. Here are the top 11 issues that took New Jersey by storm (pun intended) in 2011.
Put on hold in April for safety/legal reasons, New Jersey's medical marijuana program received the go-ahead from Governor Chris Christie in July. Six nonprofit groups were awarded licenses to grow and sell pot to chronically-ill patients. Beginning in mid-October, it became obvious many New Jersey residents had the "not in my backyard" mindset about the issue, as hundreds attended zoning board and township board hearings to battle proposals. So far, the majority of zoning boards rejected proposed grow sites and dispensary locations. The original deadline to get the state's program up and running was the end of 2011, but now that time should come at some point next year.
Who's the Bully? Christie vs. NJEA
This issue could have been at the top of the list for 2010, so it's almost old news by now. However, the hatred between the two sides is just too strong to ignore. You name it - education reform, pension/benefit changes, budget proposals - if one side has something to say, the other is almost guaranteed to disagree. It was announced in March the NJEA spent nearly $7 million last year on anti-Christie ads. The spending continued in 2011.
On Election Day in November, a referendum passed by a 2-to-1 margin for the legalization of sports betting in New Jersey, if a federal ban is overturned. According to lawmakers in favor of sports betting, the ban puts New Jersey and 45 other states at a competitive disadvantage because it allows only four states in the nation (Nevada, Oregon, Delaware and Montana) to have a monopoly. Governor Chris Christie voted "yes" on the issue, saying it's important for New Jersey to have this option. Of course, though, we will all wait for the ban to be lifted before we bet on sports of any kind.
Who saw this coming? Correct answer: no one! At 4:00pm on a Thursday in December, it was announced the state's top military commander as head of the NJ National Guard would be stepping down. Officials said the 54-year-old married man and a woman who worked for him were caught touching each other in his office. Glenn Rieth reported the incident to Governor Chris Christie and said it was being reported to the Army. Rieth's 30-year+ military career came to an end on December 15.
9/11/01 - Ten Years Later
With special events across the state, New Jersey recognized the ten-year anniversary of the terrorist attack that happened just across the river and changed the world forever. After New York, the Garden State lost the most residents - nearly 700. On September 10th of this year, Governor Chris Christie attended and spoke at the unveiling of the Empty Sky Memorial in Jersey City. The next day, he visited the memorial pools at the World Trade Center site.
Mom, where are my snow boots? It's time to trick-or-treat! A freak October storm dropped as much as 19 inches of snow in some parts of the state. It was the most on record for central and northern NJ in the month of October. Governor Chris Christie declared a state of emergency and some towns closed school for days. Perhaps the biggest issue, though, was the fact that some utility customers were without power for more than a week. There were even a few folks arrested for attacking utility workers. President Barack Obama issued a major disaster declaration for the state.
Port Authority rate hike plan
In early August, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey proposed steep increases to PATH fares and tolls at Hudson crossings, 65% and 50% hikes respectively. Governor Chris Christie presented a vague stance on the proposal, though he did continuously hammer the fact that money was needed to pay for the World Trade Center rebuild. The Port Authority held public hearings on the proposal, and people did show. In the end, a scaled-back plan was announced by Christie and NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, and approved by the PA. Months later, it was learned that no additional toll revenue would be used for the WTC site.
Budget battle - Christie vs. Sweeney
One day in late June (which we'll detail more later), Republican Governor Chris Christie and Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney stood side-by-side as landmark legislation was signed to reform the way public employees pay for their benefits and pensions. The Governor even handed Sweeney the pen he used. The bipartisan fantasy lasted until just a day or two later, when Christie used his line-item veto authority to eliminate $900 million out of the Democrats' proposed budget. Sweeney was furious because he claims the governor promised a chat before any action was taken. That paved the way for a classic media battle between the Gov and Senate Prez - a battle that provided news outlets with plenty of heated quotes from Sweeney. A few that stand out: "This is all about him being a punk and a bully." "I wanted to punch him in his head." "He's a rotten prick."
How could something named Irene be so nasty? The storm killed seven people in New Jersey and knocked out power to more than 900,000 customers. Folks knew it was coming, and while some took the threat seriously, others wouldn't believe the hype. That led Governor Chris Christie to offer his infamous advice - "get the hell off the beach!" To get a hold of how serious Irene was, all you need to remember is this: tolls were SUSPENDED on the Garden State Parkway and Atlantic City Expressway so folks could evacuate. In December, climate experts said Irene wasn't even a hurricane when it hit New Jersey.
Pension and health benefits reform
Summer wasn't the only reason it was so heated inside the New Jersey State House and the area surrounding it. On June 28, Governor Chris Christie signed legislation that required half a million public workers to pay more for their pensions and health insurance. Republicans and Democrats in the state legislature were on board with this bill, and public workers were not (understandably). They slept in tents, closed Trenton roads, and would not be defeated quietly. The law is now the subject of quite a few lawsuits.
President Chris Christie?
Will he or won't he? Despite saying "no" for months, Governor Chris Christie could not dissolve the rumors that he would run on the republican ticket for President of the United States in 2012. Once it seemed the issue had practically died down, it gained ground again in late September. It was reported Christie was seriously considering the move after being swayed by a number of republican bigwigs and donors. However, Christie gave his final "no" on October 4 during a press conference that needed a velvet rope to control all of the media outlets interested in coverage! THIS tops all the issues that hit New Jersey this year, and it's still going, as Christie supporters dream about 2016...