How key is tourism to the state’s economy? The sector employed more than half a million people last year directly or indirectly and visitors pumped more than $44 billion into the economy — a number that’s grown for seven years in a row as the shore continues to recover from Sandy. That’s why Gov. Chris Christie pulls out all the stops to announce the start of the tourist season. He sat down with Correspondent Briana Vannozzi.
Vannozzi: Is there something you wish your administration had handled differently in terms of the recovery?
Christie: I’m sure there are a number of things that we now, with retrospect, we would know certain things. Remember, we were working out of a playbook that no one had ever written before. We were writing the playbook. It’s the second worst natural disaster in American history, so I don’t have any regrets. I just wish that we had known before what we knew after, but I don’t think there’s any way you can do that. Overall, I’m extraordinarily proud of the people and the work that they did. We always talk about things we might have done differently, but nothing that stands out.
Vannozzi: There’s, by my count, about 11 resiliency projects the state has partnered with the federal government to get done to do beach replenishment, fix some of the areas at the shore. Are any of the pending projects in jeopardy with the looming budget cuts that are being proposed by the Trump administration?
Christie: We already have all the money.
Vannozzi: All of the money has been secured?
Vannozzi: And so when we talk about these project we know a lot of the erosion that we’ve seen over the last couple of years is actually at worse levels than it was just a couple of years ago. Ortley Beach, I believe, has some replenishment scheduled for this weekend. We’re talking about a lot of money that’s going to continually need to be cycled through here. Are you confident that we’ll be able to work with the federal government moving forward to have that money in place?
Christie: Absolutely, and plus the state contributes a lot of money to that as well. We have the beach replenishment program that we have that’s dedicated revenue that we use every year, and so I think we’ll have plenty of money to be able to do what we need to do. And the fact is yeah, it costs some money but it’s an incredible asset, and we make an incredible amount of money off of that asset.
Vannozzi: Twenty billion dollars roughly.
Christie: Absolutely, just here at the shore alone. Forty plus billion across the whole state in tourism so when you look at what we do here it’s well-worth the investment.
Vannozzi: The federal budget is also calling for some cuts to the flood mapping money that goes into flood mapping and also looking at increasing premiums for our flood insurance policy holders. Are these shortsighted cuts to help pay back some of this debt that they’re talking about?
Christie: Well, I would urge the president to not do the cuts, the increased premiums in the flood insurance program and privatize flood insurance. Right now, the only entity you can get flood insurance from, if you’re living here in New Jersey, is the federal government and we all saw how awful they handled that. The national flood insurance plan was awful. So what I would urge the president to do to save real money is to get the federal government out of this business and let it go into the hands of the private sector. I think it would be a much better run program, people can count on getting their money in a way that’s efficient and effective.
Vannozzi: Is there a way to have oversight there because there are many New Jerseyans who have had a lot of trouble getting the reimbursements right here in Seaside?
Christie: Sure, and the reason they had trouble getting the reimbursement was because the federal government wouldn’t give into our oversight. Our oversight we do over all the other insurance plans, homeowners and all the rest, those went fine. You never heard any complaints about the ones that were state supervised, only about the flood insurance plan. So turning it over to state regulators, our Department of Banking and Insurance has been commended across the country for the job they did post-Sandy. Let them run the flood insurance program too in terms of regulatory oversight, they’ll do a great job.
Vannozzi: Governor, last question for you before we have to wrap this up, I know how much you love Moody’s and talking about the Moody’s reports, but yesterday they did release a report looking at some of the proposals that are being put forward both from your administration and from the candidates on both sides. It was pretty brutal, actually, calling for more cuts and tax increases, otherwise we could see something like a $3.5 billion deficit over the next several years. Is that on your watch?
Christie: No, and the fact of the matter is that I’ve been saying all along that we have to do more on pensions. And if you look at what the report said, almost the entirety of their report was about the pension costs going forward. You have candidates out there now who are saying, ‘no, no, no we’re going to fully fund the pension.’ That’s where they’re going to have a $3.5 billion deficit, is if they do that. That’s why I want to do this lottery proposal that will help to deplete the deficit in the pension system. But know, remember this, $8.8 billion we put into the pension fund in my eight years as governor. That’s two and a half times more than the last five governor’s combined.
Vannozzi: It still won’t be fully funded by 2018 as you had said.
Christie: Well, first of all I never said it would be fully funded by 2018, ever. What I said was if they did our proposals it would be fully funded in 30 years, not by 2018, so that’s just wrong. And secondly, we put in two and a half times more money than the last five governors combined, so it didn’t happen on my watch. It happened on the watch of the five people before me who put in that little amount of money into the pension system. We’ve made reforms that have made the pension system better, including eliminating costs of living adjustments that would have cost the fund another $100 billion over the next 30 years. So this fund is in much better shape today than when I became governor. You have to make tough decisions and that’s why I’m unpopular with the teacher’s unions and the CWA and the police and fire unions. I said you can’t get everything you want. And now we have gubernatorial candidates that are saying you can get everything you want, so as a citizen I’ll be watching really closely to see how they’re actually going to pull that magic off. It’s all boloney. The stuff that Phil Murphy’s saying is fantasy. Unless he’s going to give them some kind of Goldman Sachs financing, which we all see how that led to the 2008 collapse of our economy, I don’t think New Jersey wants to turn it over to a Goldman Sach’s shyser to run the state.
Vannozzi: So we’ll leave it on shyser. Are you going to enjoy a little bit of time on the boardwalk for the rest of the day here?
Christie: Yes, and the weekend. We’re staying here for the weekend. Me and Mary Pat and the kids will be up here, I’m sure, a couple of times over the weekend.
Vannozzi: Maybe we’ll catch you on a couple of rides?
Christie: Why not, absolutely.
Vannozzi: Governor, thank you. We appreciate your time. That’s for sitting down.
Christie: Good to talk to you. Thank you.