LONG HILL, NJ - Governor Chris Christie held his 111th Town Hall Meeting to a room of 500 citizens, students and dignitaries in attendance at the Long Hill Community Center on Wednesday, Feb. 26.
Arriving one day after his 6th official budget address, Governor Christie reminded the audience of the progress that has been made since he became Governor by making the drastic cuts just two weeks after taking office. He recounted the cutting of two billion dollars from the budget to be able to make payroll. "People forget where we were, we were in an awful place four years ago," said Gov. Christie.
"My job is to tell you the truth of what is going on," stated Gov. Christie.
With good revenue growth, the economy is coming back according to Gov. Christie; unemployment was over 10%, now down to 7.3%.; the state has 130,000 new private sector jobs that weren't there four years ago. "Things are getting better, but they aren't good enough yet. If we don't get this 'monkey off our back': pension, health benefits and debt services; we aren't going to grow as a state."
He stated the fact that 94% of all new spending is for the entitlements the state pays for pension of public employees, health benefits of public employees and debt services for what the state has borrowed. "Nine out of every 10 dollars goes towards nothing that is productive for our future as a state," said Gov. Christie. "It doesn't go towards education, doesn't go to healthcare, doesn't go to public safety putting more police on the street."
The pension system is still $52 billion underfunded. "My job is to put a focus and spot light on this issue and we need to deal with it," said Gov. Christie. "I will come up with extreme measures to deal with it. I'm willing to work with the entire legislature to come up with ideas to fix it. If they are unwilling to do it, I will do everything in my power to fix this problem."
The floor opened to questions that hit on issues from helping the developmentally disabled, specifically children with Autism, a landfill in Morris County, consolidation of shared services with municipalities and education, and the more than 200 failing public schools in the state.
"I thought that the Governor's Town Hall Meeting today was very informative," said Mayor Joe Bruno. "He believes, as I do, that the people you represent should not have to wonder what’s on your mind, all you should need to do is ask."
The last audience question asked Gov. Christie of the need for passage of the Shared Services Bill currently in the State Assembly/ (passed in the State Senate). "I fully support his measure. Gov. Christie alluded to the need for a reduction of the duplication and redundancy in County and Local governments. Again, I could not agree more. There is some 'low hanging fruit' here for the state to become more affordable and we should start the dialog to do so," said Bruno.
"Do we really need County Government [all 21 of them] as the middle layer between the State and the Local Municipalities. Look at the possible consolidation and savings there. I would fully support a study to look into the possible savings. I believe that the savings would be huge and go along way into making NJ affordable for all," said Bruno.
"Consolidation is the only way to roll back taxes," said Gov. Christie. He advised the audience that if the Shared Services Bill came across his desk, he would sign it.
"If anyone has not had the opportunity to attend a Governor’s Town Hall meeting, I would highly recommend it," said Bruno.