SUMMIT, NJ – Former state official Rich Bagger had much to say this morning about Governor Chris Christie, his time in the New Jersey legislature, and his new gig on the board of the Port Authority.

Bagger spoke during the First Friday meeting of the Suburban Chamber of Commerce this morning at the Grand Summit Hotel.

The former assemblyman until recently served as chief of staff for Christie, whom he called “the same guy, all the time.”

Sign Up for E-News

“The guy you saw singing ‘Thunder Road’ on TV is the same guy you’d overhear singing ‘Thunder Road’ in his office,” Bagger said. “It was a privilege and great fun to work with him.”

Bagger, who now works for Celgene in Summit, said the governor started working on the state’s financial problems the same day he was inaugurated, Jan. 19, 2010.

“He needed to dive in like a new management team at a failing company,” Bagger said, adding that Christie had stepped into the office of governor at a time when New Jersey was close to financial collapse. “The word ‘crisis’ is not too strong.”

Since taking office, Christie has been credited with leading the fight to turn New Jersey’s finances around, much of which was done with bi-partisan support, sometimes a little pain, and a determinedness that Bagger said is one of the characteristics for which the outspoken Christie is known.

“A theme here is that Chris Christie and his administration aren’t afraid to take on what’s difficult,” he said. “The governor has a dogged determination to see things through. If he hits a roadblock, he keeps going. If his staff tells him something can’t be done, his answer is ‘find another way.’”

Bagger credited Christie with being unafraid to make unpopular decisions, such as his veto – twice – of the legislature’s bill to increase state income taxes; the deal to reform public employees’ benefits, and the two percent tax cap.

“It was tough,” he said. “There was arguing. There were some heated discussions, but we got it done. We’re already seeing the impact of some of those decisions.”

Bagger also talked briefly about the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He is about two months into his service on the board, and said he has also been appointed as the chair of the finance committee.  He talked about various capital projects that are underway or coming up, including repairs to the 80-year-old George Washington Bridge.

“The board is going to be thinking hard about the Port Authority’s core mission,” he said. “We are committed to investing in the capital needs but doing so in a way that’s financially responsible and sustainable.”