CALDWELL, NJ - “They’ll hate it because it’s the truth and it will inflict some pain” seemed to be the theme of Gov. Chris Christie’s 123rd town hall meeting at the Caldwell Community Center on Tuesday night. Christie was met with both supporters and protesters alike as he defended the budget he signed only days ago.
When asked what he hoped to hear from Christie, former town chairman, and lifetime resident of Caldwell, John Hamilton replied, “Follow through with no taxes.”
Christie was quick to assuage that concern in his opening, outlining his veto of over $1 billion in tax increases. “For the fourth time in the last five years they tried to raise taxes and I vetoed it for the fourth time,” Christie said.
Christie continued to highlight plans for New Jersey healthcare and pension, referring to both systems as, currently, “unsustainable.” A pension payment of $681 million will be made in the fiscal year 2015 to cover the cost of benefits earned by active employees, however, it was made clear that it does nothing by way of paying down the state’s debt.
“We can’t 'grow' out of this problem,” the Governor assured those in attendance, “we all have to get together and fix it.”
Education was not off the table as Christie fielded questions about the growing tuition rates in New Jersey’s colleges and universities. He deftly drew attention to the Building our Future Act, which will provide funding to expand schools in order to better accommodate incoming students, while promising a stabilized tuition for the next 4-5 years.
Controversy was nearly averted until the mention of funding for Tuition Aid Grants brought an outpouring of protests. Although there will be an increase of $14 million to be added to the $47 million already allocated in the last two years for underprivileged students, according to nj.com there is a line item veto for undocumented students. The protestors read from the same script on their phones as they were escorted out of the building.
Christie took time to answer questions from the public with his usual candor, showing empathy for a father’s concern about the future of his daughter with special needs, promising to “to look into” a union electrician for NJTransit under no contract, without a raise for going on four years and answering emphatically regarding issues surrounding the Common Core, saying to wait until the plans are finalized, but something needs to change in the state's public schools. “We used to be among the greatest in education--we’re not anymore," he said. "We’re falling further and further behind. We need to demand excellence again.”
As for the combative questions, Christie did not hold back.