Payback is still the rule in Gov. Christie's realm. After New Jersey's Pinelands Commission stopped a natural-gas pipeline the governor favors from running through the protected forest, Christie blocked the commission's attempt to budget for staff raises.
Christie had gotten another state agency, the Board of Public Utilities, to act as the chief cheerleader for the pipeline. When that didn't work, the attorney general trumped up ethical concerns to keep a commissioner from voting. But the pipeline was rejected anyway.
Christie's latest move was an unprecedented veto of the commission's minutes, reversing its decision to budget for staff salary increases. With typical hyperbole, Christie accused the commissioners of a "confiscation . . . of public funds." Is there a way to pay public employees without using public funds?
Christie also accused the commission of a "conscious disregard of the fiscal realities" of the state. But the commission's staff has recognized those realities by accepting furloughs and forgoing raises. The commission's plan to increase salaries by up to 5 percent hardly seems excessive given that its employees make 36 percent less than their counterparts at other state agencies.
Put aside Christie's royal outrage and the real issue is whether the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan should be beheaded through forced approval of the pipeline that the panel rightly rejected in January. That would pave the way for similar intrusions on a forest that protects drinking water for an entire region.
Four former New Jersey governors from both parties asked the commission to stop the pipeline, which would feed gas into an obsolete coal-fired plant that the state Department of Environmental Protection has ordered shut down as of next year.
Christie's veto isn't likely to be the last attack on the Pinelands Commission. But the commissioners should stick to their principles and protect the people's forest.