WASHINGTON, D.C. – At the annual New Jersey Chamber of Commerce banquet, Gov. Chris Christie tonight applauded the chamber for the financial and spiritual support it lends to the state business community and redoubled his vow to impose fiscal discipline on the state’s finances.
“I couldn’t go to Florida, I’m here,” deadpanned the governor, by way of explaining his presence, a reference to the overnight snowstorm back in the Garden State and headlines during the last snowstorm that reamed him for being down south.
“A year ago we understood the need to react to (the budget) bluntly, and that by sticking our heads in the sand, we would not solve our problems,” the governor told the crowd.
A massive table stood elevated above the rest of the banquet hall here at the Woodley Park Marriott crammed with dignitaries, including Christie, former Gov. Brendan Byrne, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, and congressmen from both parties.
“New Jersey must focus on the big things,” said Christie, echoing President Barack Obama’s Tuesday night State of the Union.
“He said America must focus on the big things. Now there may be differences on what those big things are, but politicians on both sides of the aisle understand that the big things need to be tackled. The days of huge spending and taxing and deficits in New Jersey are coming to an end. I hope the congressmen and president come together to bring them to an end as well. If we don’t we are consigning our children and grandchildren to a lesser American life.”
The governor generated applause when he said, “I don’t think there’s a person in this room” who doesn’t want to do that.
“We must finally say no,” Christie told the core of politicians in the room.
So far so good. No argument.
“People are anxious to hear these truths,” Christie said. “That’s what they sent us to our positions to do.”
But then he repeated his desire to get more public workers to contribute to their pensions and healthcare, an issue that has divided the Republican governor from public sector-reliant members of the opposing party. And yet there was no jarring opposition in the room. No surly murmur of protest.
“This is not soaring rhetoric,” said Christie, “…but the soaring rhetoric won’t cure us. The only thing that will cure us is to step up to the challenge and to fix it like men and women.”
Christie said the state pension fund will be broke in 2020.
“If you want to be honest with the police officer, teacher or county worker, you’ve got to look at the guy and tell him the truth, so when he retires he has something – not nothing,” said the governor.
But after the sweetness and light setup and invocation of Obama, he went for the kill.
Vowing to fight high cost, dysfunctional systems that diss inner city children, he said again and forcefully that education reform is something that must happen in New Jersey. The overwhelming majority of teachers are good and hard-working, Christie admitted.
“But that’s not good enough,” he said, “because if your child is in a classroom with an underperforming teacher, it gives you no comfort to know someone else’s child is in a classroom with a good teacher.”
$25,000 per-pupil per year in Newark in chronically failing schools won’t cut it, said Christie.
The message from educational establishment is “hold on, it will get better.”
But Christie amped up his message of charters, merit pay and vouchers, without saying vouchers.
“If there was any reason I won the election it was because the people of the state knew what a mess the state was in and they thought maybe this cranky, tough, big-mouthed prosecutor might have the guts for a period of time to try to fix these problems,” the governor said.