The focus Wednesday of Gov. Chris Christie's 79th Town Hall meeting was the governor's proposed 10 percent, across-the-board tax cuts.
Christie, speaking at the East Hanover Fire Department, said he's determined to deliver the tax break New Jersey residents have been waiting for.
“The people of New Jersey haven’t had a tax cut in over a decade," he said. "You’ve made the sacrifices that were necessary to step up and help me balance this budget, and I want to give you some of your money back to spend on your family, not to spend in Trenton."
Christie looks to accomplish this despite some opposition across county lines. According to Christie, two of those opposing the proposal in particular—Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Camden) and State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen)—are attempting to increase taxes and spending purely for political reasons.
Christie said he vetoed a budget proposal Greenwald and Sarlo came to him with that included an additional $816 million last year. The governor warned on Wednesday they may attempt to propose something similar.
“They knowingly sent me the budget that way," he said. "They knew the numbers were fake; they knew they were phony and they sent it to me that way purely for politics.
"They thought there was no way the governor will use his line item veto pen to strike out spending, because it would be too unpopular. [They were] sending our state careening back toward the days of deficits, where we were going to have to lay people off and raise taxes in order to pay for their spending.”
In light of this, Christie preached fiscal responsibility as New Jersey continues its climb out of financial crisis, he said.
“I will not ask you for another dollar or increase taxes until I can look you in the eye and say the government is spending every dollar we already spend efficiently,” Christie said. “We’re not, and until we fix that, we’re not raising anybody’s taxes in the state.”
The governor's task in getting state lawmakers to agree to the tax cut was made more difficult Wednesday by a report from the state treasurer's office that revenues from energy tax collections were $120 million less than anticipated. That news came only a day after the treasury department said revenue was already $184 million less than the Christie administration had projected.
Some Democrats seemed to be using the revenue numbers to tarnish Christie's national reputation for having turned around New Jersey's out-of-control budget deficit. The governor “built his plan on a shaky foundation,” Greenwald said, according to PolitickerNJ.com.
But the governor has a strong ally in state Senate President Steve Sweeney, who is pushing his own 10 percent tax cut. And administration officials pointed out in a press realease that there are two months of revenue collections and three months of sales tax receipts still to be collected, so the numbers may improve.
Christie also identified several New Jersey Democrats with whom he has worked constructively, despite partisan differences, including Newark Mayor Cory Booker. The two recently teamed up for a video parody that has gone viral.
“Cory is a friend, and we had a good time doing the video together. You know Cory’s a Democrat, and the reason why I bring that up to start off today is because it’s kind of emblematic of the way I’ve been trying to govern in the state over the past two and a half years,” Christie said. “There are plenty of things that Cory and I disagree about from a policy standpoint. It doesn’t mean we can’t work together.”
Christie pledges to show that willingness to work and compromise with all members of the New Jersey State Legislature, as long as they are willing to do the same in return.
“I have to work with people I don’t agree with on every issue,” Christie said. “It’s my job to find the issues we do agree on and force compromise where people don’t think compromise is possible.”
Christie was adamant that Republicans and Democrats must be willing to work together on a federal level, as well. The governor recalled his own interactions with President Barack Obama as an example of how to communicate, despite the ideological differences between the two parties.
“He gets my respect because he holds that office. When I’ve had things I’ve wanted to tell him and I’ve had the opportunity to tell him, I have. He came here after Hurricane Irene and we spent most of an entire day together,” Christie said of Obama.
“I’ve definitely shared my ideas with the president. Every once in a while, I share my ideas in a speech and wonder if he might be listening or not. We should share those ideas with each other, and we should do it in a way that’s constructive.”
Christie also wishes that all politicians felt the same way. When addressing a young audience member about remedying the current job crisis affecting the United States, Christie said both sides could be doing a better job of cooperating with one another.
“It is disgraceful that our national government is pulling the politics that it is pulling and not attending to or talking about the fact that you have millions of Americans who want to work and can’t find a job,” Christie said.
“As a result, they’re losing their homes, they can’t put food on the table for their families and they can’t take care of their children the way they need to be taken care of. We should be spending most, if not all, of our time talking about how to revive the American economy so we can put people back to work.”
The governor also touched on a variety of other topics he outlined as priorities in the State of the State Address earlier this year. These included tenure and merit pay reform, the state-imposed 2-percent property tax levy cap and mandatory treatment for non-violent drug offenders.
When asked about the topic of mandatory rehabilitation, Christie responded by saying, “Even if, on a moral level, you don’t agree with that, on an economic level you should agree with it. It costs us $49,000 a year to warehouse an inmate in a state prison. It costs us $24,000 a year for a year-long drug addiction treatment.”
Christie also believes that “warehousing” inmates also has less of a chance of resulting in an addict’s successful recovery.
“In warehousing somebody, we have next to no chance of somebody becoming clean,” Christie said. “In putting them in drug treatment for a year and putting them in a secure facility, then we have a chance of that person coming out and being a productive member of our society.”
The governor also told those in attendance that he intends to put a stop to tax levy cap exceptions. Doing so, he believes, will reduce the impact of taxes and, ultimately, the way of life of residents across the state.
“You can call it whatever you want, but the costs to the taxpayer are not going above two percent. That’s it. They’re not going up more than that,” Christie said. “I did not fight as hard as I fought for pension and benefit reform, and I literally saved billions of dollars to come off of your property tax bill, to have some local official spend it out the side door. I’m not going to take the heat for this.”
“We’re trying to close escape routes and trying to close in the wall so we can make sure that they’re held accountable for what they want to do."