Just a day after delivering his fifth consecutive budget to the state of New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie continued to bang the drum on spending, specifically the amount going into state-funded pensions, at his 111th town hall meeting.
The Mendham Township (Morris County) resident spent Wednesday morning just a few miles from home in Long Hill Township – the first town hall the governor held in that county since Feb. 2013.
After a few joking words about the accuracy of weathermen and pollsters, Christie launched into the magnitude of this year’s spending plan, which boasts a fifth consecutive year without a tax increase.
“State taxes won’t go up as long as I’m governor,” Christie said to an applause. “I won’t do it.”
Christie focused on the enormous pension account that is, according to actuarial accounts, $52 billion underfunded. The governor threw blame at his predecessors for not addressing the issue during their stays in office as reason why the system was so far under water.
“Can you have $52 billion in debt and do nothing about it?” he asked capacity crowd of 525 at the town’s community center. “Not even (Facebook founder) Mark Zuckerburg can bail us out of this problem.”
Christie said changes need to be made before his second term comes to a close, and incorporated Detroit, Michigan as precursor to what New Jersey could be in store for.
“Detroit is bankrupt because of its debt,” he said. “And that debt is because of its pension system. Of (Detroit’s) $11 billion in debt, $9.5 billion was from pensions.
“Detroit is giving us a preview if we don’t take care of this,” he said.
Earlier this week, watchdog-newjersey.com published a list of the state’s retired public employees currently receiving $100,000 annual pension payments. That list included 1,731 former public workers, nearly a 75-percent increase in three years.
Autism, Schooling Among Resident Concerns
Known for the governor’s interaction with residents in an open setting, the town hall meetings often become YouTube sensations or fodder for pundits.
Wednesday’s town hall questions hit on issues from helping the mentally handicapped, specifically children with Autism – a category in which New Jersey has the highest rate of those classified in the country – to a hazardous landfill situation in Morris County and the more than 200 failing public schools in the state.
But as the event wore down and the governor called for two more questions, a 10-year-old girl named Abigail stole the show.
In a lengthy, typed-out question, Abigail implored the state’s leader to keep the NJ ASK testing model and not move to PARCC – Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. The crowd roared with applause when she finished her statement, part of which called on Christie to be a leader, not a follower, as many other states across the country had already switched models.
Christie couldn’t do much but smile and make the best of the situation, calling the young girl out into the roped off area designated for the speaker. He then told Abigail he’d give the question to outgoing Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, and that she should expect a phone call from him very soon.
Aside from a handful of protesters a few feet down the road, Christie’s second town hall of his second term as governor was a quiet one.
The administration announced the next town hall is scheduled for Tuesday, March 4 in Berkeley Township.