By David Cruz
For his 130th town hall meeting, Gov. Chris Christie came full circle. A newly elected Chris Christie in March of 2010 held his first town hall meeting. In those days the venue was a library. Nowadays the governor commands much larger audiences. The theme de jour was pension, pension, pension reform, but the governor did make his first public comments about the controversial Exxon settlement, blaming the press for not seeing things his way.
“The Exxon settlement is a good settlement. Now, listen the attorney general makes these decisions, so I can’t take credit for the good decision either because the attorney general makes these decisions and I don’t interfere with the attorney general. But what I will tell you is: They’re gonna have to clean everything up, no matter what it costs and we get $225 million on top of it because they were bad enough to have done it in the first place,” Christie said.
Nobody in the crowd of about 400 asked the governor about Sandy or the Transportation Trust Fund or the controversy swirling around Sen. Bob Menendez, which the governor also avoided when we asked him about it outside.
When asked if he would give us two minutes on Menendez, Christie said, “I can’t, and if I had 50 minutes, I wouldn’t give you two minutes on Menendez and I don’t.”
Inside the governor was on message, making his case for more pension reform, driving a wedge between those who have private healthcare plans and those who are on the state’s plan.
“By next year, we’re talking about $3.7 billion to pay for health insurance and that’s just for the state-paid groups alone. That doesn’t count what you pay at the municipal level or the county level in your property taxes for the health benefits for those folks,” he said.
Christie says the state’s so-called Platinum Plus plan covers 90 percent of retiree health care costs. Most of us get about 80 percent coverage in the private sector, he says, a situation the governor predicts will mean some scary alternatives when it comes time to pay up.
“You’d either have to raise the sales tax from 7 percent to 10 percent or increase everybody’s income tax who works here by 29 percent, so you got the numbers right but it’s not an ‘and,’ it’s an ‘or.’ Thank goodness it’s not an ‘and,'” Christie said.
For a guy who seems mostly focused on his potential bid for the White House, running for president never came up today, and protesters, who have given Christie some of his best YouTube moments in the past were barely seen, holding signs and hanging around outside, noticed by few and acknowledged by Christie, not at all.
Aside from making his first public comments on the Exxon settlement, the governor stuck pretty much to the script, which is: things are great, unless you look at the credit downgrades, the sluggish economy and the pending budget crisis, but, he adds, it’s the public employees unions that are responsible for that.