Stumping for passage of a new state budget with the style of a stand-up comedian, Gov. Chris Christie went on the attack against Democratic legislators in a Feb. 27 town hall meeting at the Pine Brook Jewish Center.
In a free-wheeling speech before 800 people in the Conservative synagogue’s crowded social hall, the governor drew frequent laughter as he defended the $32.9 billion state budget he presented the previous day to the State Senate and Assembly.
Although his new revenue plans do not include an income tax cut — which Democrats opposed — the governor said he had been willing in past years to compromise on reductions with Democratic leaders.
“I went around campaigning for their tax cut exactly as they proposed it,” he said. “And what did they send me in return?,” he asked jokingly. “A tax increase.”
Referring to President Harry Truman’s nickname, “Give ‘Em Hell, Harry,” Christie drew laughter when he said of Democrats, “I’m just giving them the truth. They feel like it’s hell.”
He also repeated calls for an end to retirement plans that allow government employees to accrue unused medical leave, costing taxpayers some $880 million.
“We have to stop this craziness of paying people for not being sick,” he said. “Only in New Jersey. They call these payments ‘boat checks’ because they are big enough to allow people to buy a boat.”
Christie said another big area of government savings would be for adjacent municipalities to combine municipal services.
He urged his own hometown, Mendham Township, and neighboring Mendham Borough to scrap plans for new public libraries and build one structure for both towns.
When officials in Mendham Township initiated police merger talks in 2010, “you would have thought we were trying to get the National Guard to come in by force and take over the entire place.”
The governor also called for “common sense ethics reforms” that would require state legislators to file financial statements, as the governor and members of his administration must do.
When he and his wife, Mary Pat, did so, “the ugly truth of my marriage was laid out for everyone in New Jersey to see…For the 27th year in a row, Mary Pat makes more than me.”
Mary Pat Christie is a managing director at Angelo, Gordon & Co., a privately held investment adviser.
Asked about tensions between Democrats and Republicans in Washington, Christie said that “there is always a boulevard between getting everything you want and compromising your principles. There is always some space there, and the job of a governor or any executive is to find that space.”
But, he added, “the president has to shoulder the burden because he is the person we elected to lead. The other folks are there to lead to a certain extent, but the only one who can make compromises happen is the one in the Oval Office.”
When an eight-year-old Montville girl named Audrey asked him “what was his favorite thing to do as governor?,” Christie said he had two answers.
“The serious answer is, every morning when I get up I have a chance to do something great…My favorite thing on the fun side is going to New York City. When you are governor they close the Lincoln Tunnel for you, and you get to drive right through. No traffic.”
As the meeting ended, Menachem Toren of Montville told NJ Jewish News, “I like the governor and I agree with what he said.”
But Norman Levin, the synagogue’s executive director, had a different view. “The Democratic legislature is not as diabolical or sinister as Christie implied. But that is the nature of politics.”
Standing beside Levin, Rabbi Mark Finkel said the governor “knows the gifts he has for the people of New Jersey and is willing to stand up there and say what is in his heart and his mind. What he said is something I felt I could relate to.”
Asked whether he would like to see the governor run for president in 2016, the rabbi told NJJN, “I like a broad spectrum of candidates and I can think of few if any people I would rather see running on the Republican side of the ballot.”