By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
They say repetition is the key to success when selling a message. In his fourth town hall since the budget address Feb. 24, Gov. Chris Christie repeated almost the exact same lines he’s been delivering ever since.
“We’ve had a billion dollars more in revenue coming into the state government, not as a result of higher taxes, just in growth. But every penny of that billion dollars is going to one of three things — increased pension payment, increased cost of public sector health benefits and debt service,” Christie said.
He said Democrats would raise taxes to maintain current benefits, but they would fall on the wealthy and the wealthy are already abandoning ship.
“This January, there came out a report that said just last year 10,000 millionaires left the state, 10,000 millionaires left the state,” Christie said.
The only solution, he said, is replace the current pension system with a less generous one, reduce health benefits from platinum plus to gold and use the savings to pay off existing pension debt.
“If we lower it from platinum level, platinum plus to gold, all the money that we save, we put into the pension to pay off the pension debt. That’ll be helpful for the state’s long-term fiscal health and it’ll allow us to make sure that we keep those promises to people who have been in the system for a long time,” Christie said.
And he is not shy about laying blame on his predecessors.
“I’m like the guy who showed up for dinner at dessert and then everybody went to go to the bathroom and never came back and I got the check. That’s fine. That’s the job. I ran for it and it’s the job I’ve been elected to twice and so I’m not complaining about it. But you need to know the facts,” Christie said.
Before the town hall, we asked Christie political advisor Mike DuHaime how the governor’s presidential aspirations are shaping up.
“Well I think he’s taking his time right now, going through the process to think it through and certainly meeting with people. He hasn’t made any formal decision yet, but I think going through the process is very helpful,” DuHaime said.
When asked how soon he thinks we’ll know if Christie will run, DuHaime said, “It’s up to him. I don’t know the answer to that.”
When asked if there’s an urgency to get in the race, DuHaime said, “I don’t think so. Nobody else is in the race at this point in either party so I don’t think there’s any real rush at this point. I think Gov. Christie is the best communicator in the country right now in either party. Town halls like this prove it. People in New Jersey know that and I think should he decide to go forward, others will too.”
“Since the budget speech, I’ve been out doing a town hall meeting every week since the budget. I’ll continue to do them all across the state to talk about this so people know what the real story is,” Christie said.
The governor’s doing town halls again, but he’s not holding press conferences. If he were, we’d like to ask him how he expects to get a fairly radical change in pensions and benefits through the Democratic Legislature.