MIKE: Governor, obviously an extraordinary day but tell me how much does New Jersey have riding on this summer?
GOVERNOR: Well I think psychologically it’s important Mike and that’s why having all the boardwalks open as they are and getting tourists back here will make the citizens feel better because we have a lot of work to do for our citizens. A lot more people need to get back into their homes and there are still a good number of businesses that need to get open. So it’s a psychologically important summer to let everybody know they can still come back here and look at the beautiful beach we have here and they can still come here and enjoy themselves.
MIKE: We look at it today, clouds look ominous, but the crowds are here despite the clouds. Talk to me though, we just had this event — [DEP] commissioner Bob Martin who’s talking about the water quality being really good, but some others are warning about a lot of sand has gone from the beach, these areas are stillvery vulnerable. Are you very concerned about that?
GOVERNOR: Sure. After hurricane season, you always have to be concerned and that’s why the DEP has worked hard with the federal government to build temporary dunes in a lot of places and the Army Corps projects are going to start this summer to build the permanent dunes all along the whole 130 miles of coastline. Yeah, am I concerned about this? Sure I am cause we’re not quite ready to protect ourselves yet.
MIKE: We’ve heard from some local officials that they’re waiting now for the [New Jersey] Supreme Court to rule on this Harvey Cedars case about whether you have to pay $375,000 to that couple and maybe a whole bunch of other couples as well to get the easement rights. What does that say to you about delays with this?
GOVERNOR: We may not wait. The state may take over because I simply believe this is a statewide issue and while I have great respect for home rule and the localities and understand their concerns about the Harvey Cedars case, I think this is something we have to do no matter what. We have a window to do this with significant federal support and we have to do it, so if there’s going to be any further delay, the state may very well step in and take over and I may have some stuff to say about that next week.
MIKE: The fact that the President is coming here in a couple of days — is it to take a victory lap or show areas that still need help that may not have been acknowledged in the first?
GOVERNOR: My understanding of why the President wants to come is that he wants to see the progress for himself. You can see pictures and everything else. But when you could see there’s people here, the beaches are very wide where we are in Point Pleasant. I think he wants to see all that for himself and I think it’s more that than anything else. There’s always an element in everything that people in public office do which people will question. But I don’t question the President’s motives for coming here. I think he wants to come and see for himself — is progress really being made?
MIKE: When you take a look back to those dark days seven months ago, what do you think was your best decision?
GOVERNOR: Best decision was odd-even gas. There was a lot of other decisions that are more long-lasting than that, but there was areal sense of panic in the state and there was a lot of divided opinion around the table about whether to go to odd-even gas. And when we did, as you probably recall, the lines dissipated … the stress went down, the tension went down and I think it just calmed people. And so I say it’s the best decision not because it was the most important decision but it was one of the more disputed decisions and it turned out OK.
MIKE: And if you had to do something over again, if you had to fine tune a decision that you made, what would that be?
GOVERNOR: I think I probably would have spent more time on the backs of the utility companies about getting the power back up more quickly. I was on them everyday but I probably should have rung 2 or 3 times a day personally.
MIKE: Was it across the board or was there glaring differences in the way they responded and the way you perceived their degree of corporate responsibility?
GOVERNOR: Well what I think it really is Mike the difference was that they felt a sense of urgency, but I don’t think they were quite as ready as they needed to be especially in light of Irene having happened and a couple of the Nor’easters we had. I just think the utility companies should have been more ready and the BPU — Board of Public Utilities — is now looking very closely at their preparation or lack thereof. And that’s why I asked the legislature to allow us to increase the fines to make it more serious about getting prepared and we’re going to order certain steps to be taken. We have done some already, we’re going to do more.
MIKE: Does the fact that some of these companies have out of state ownership — they’re parts of large conglomerates — does that play into your equation at all?
GOVERNOR: I don’t think so. I can tell you that, for instance, the FirstEnergy folks who own JCP&L. They were out here two days after the storm. The CEO of FirstEnergy was here on the ground here in New Jersey meeting with me and putting resources to bear so they understood the seriousness of it. I think it was the preparation beforehand that, in my view looking back on it now, was not up to snuff. And as a result, I think it delayed things a little bit longer than they should have.
MIKE: We’ve talked recently about some of the state revenue numbers and projections and what have you and I wonder how, as we look at the crowds here at the boardwalk here today … how important is the success of the summer season to your ability to get where you need to be to achieve your budget goals?
GOVERNOR: Well I think for this, it’s only the sales tax revenue that really is going to be affected by this and I think whatever hits we’ve taken on the income tax and the corporate business tax that probably have already been felt. And there may be some hangover in the sales tax if the summer season doesn’t add up. I think we’ve been very conservative with the way we’ve projected on the sales tax. And the other thing that’s counter balancing this is the continued good employment numbers putting more people back to work and the income tax revenue being even above what we projected it to be for fiscal year ’13. So I think the two things are kind of balancing themselves out
MIKE: Last question for you. When you go to bed tonight after this day is all finished, knowing seven months ago this day would come, what’s going through your mind and your heart?
GOVERNOR: I’m just gratified that we’ve gotten to this far already, but I also know that tomorrow I got to get up and get back to it. I mean, there’s no time for patting yourself on the back in this business. People expect you to deliver for them, to help them get back to normal. And while I’d say 90 percent of the state is back to normal now, for those 10 percent who aren’t, it is just grounding type of emotional pain for them. So my focus when I wake up tomorrow morning will be — what more do we need to do to get them back into their homes, get businesses back up. So I’ll go to bed tonight feeling really good about the fact the boardwalks are done, the businesses are open and people can come to the shore and bring their families, but also feel for those people — that 10 percent or so of people — who are still affected who we’ve got to get them help quickly and we’re going to do the best we can and getting right back to it
MIKE: Gov. Christie, thank you sir.
GOVERNOR: Mike, thank you. I appreciate it.