Gov. Chris Christie was greeted with chants instead of cheers outside his 134th town hall meeting in Matawan. A hundred protesters lined the streets demanding the governor fund public employee pensions, as required by the law he signed four years ago. And by this year’s superior court ruling, a ruling Christie is appealing in state Supreme Court. NJTV News Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron was in Matawan.
Notwithstanding the NJEA demonstrators, the governor continued to press his pension reform agenda. He wants to freeze the current pension system, replace it with a 401K system, cut back on health care coverage for public workers and use the savings from that to close an $80 billion pension liability.
“So there’s a way to do it. And we can do it. Last piece of it is, and this is for the futures. I want to take that $80 billion and I want to give it to the unions. Take the politics out of this. Take politicians’ hands away from that money and give it to the unions for their members so they can run it. We know that’s what happens in the private sector. If you’re the electricians’ union, plumbers, pipe fitters, carpenters, iron workers, the union manages your pension and your union leaders have the responsibility to manage it reasonably,” Christie said. “And that’s why in the private sector when your pension doesn’t have enough money, everybody’s gotta pay more. If health care costs go up, people have to pay more. It’s only in the public sector where you go eh, don’t worry about it. We’ll figure it out some other way. If the guys in the private sector did that they’d go to jail. So let’s give the union members that money and take the politics out of it.”
In the Q&A that followed, the most hostile question came from a teacher who asked Christie to defend the ExxonMobil settlement.
“The fact is that the ExxonMobil deal, the state sued 10 years ago and just put a number out — $8.9 billion. There was no basis in fact for that $8.9 billion. People can sue for anything they want to sue for. The fact is that the $225 million plus remediation is the largest environmental settlement that the state has ever received in its history by a large margin,” Christie said. “So there will always be people who will play second guesser. But for 10 years, by the way, the state got nothing from ExxonMobil. They were litigating for 10 years, paying lawyers for 10 years and got nothing.”
That was the most hostile question. The most interesting question was also from a teacher who asked Christie about his demeanor.
“The press seems to get your worst side all the time. Shut up, sit down. Idiot. And my kids at home and my kids at school say, ‘Why does the governor do that?’ Now, I could say Jersey, we’re Jersey. I was born and bred in Jersey. That’s not gonna work in the United States,” the teacher said.
“Everything that I’ve ever said in my public life is not something that I would necessarily say again. There are some people that just believe that if you’re a public figure that they’re allowed to be rude. That they can say or do anything to you and because you’re a public figure, you have to respond politely because that’s the rules as they see it. I don’t see it that way,” Christie said.
The governor takes this town hall format to New Hampshire next week. He’s going to do two town halls there, come back and do one here and then go back up to New Hampshire.