WASHINGTON – New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie called on his home state to set an example for the federal government by reducing entitlement spending.
“It’s time to dig in and make a few people unhappy so that the greater good can be achieved,” said Christie at the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Congressional Dinner on Tuesday evening.
“This is not about politics for me. I’m not running in the state again. I could leave this mess for the next person but that’s been done too many times in this state,” he added.
Christie, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, pushed back against critics who claim the state will eventually grow its way out of the $50 billion in overfunding of pensions and public sector health benefits.
“For the first time in New Jersey history, we will spend more money on retiree health benefits than we will spend on current employees,” Christie said. “We spend more on people doing nothing than people doing something.”
He encouraged the state legislature to take action and avoid a financial situation like the one in Detroit, where the city has declared bankruptcy.
“What we will confront in 2 to 3 years if we don’t do this is a state, I believe, with declining economic circumstances and more people departing our state,” he predicted. “Our citizens deserve better than that – much better than that.”
Christie said he had two choices when he took office: reduce the size of government or raise taxes on New Jerseyans.
“If you take out the entitlement programs that we have, pension payments, payments for health benefits and debt service, spending on every other item in the state budget is $2.2 billion lower in this budget, in FY2015, than we spent in FY2008,” he said.
“We made the pledge to make government smaller and less expensive because we knew it was the only way to avoid what had been the inevitability in the minds of people in New Jersey of ever increasing taxes on their businesses, their income and the items that they purchased,” Christie added.
The event marked Christie’s first keynote address in Washington since an internal review cleared him of involvement in the lane closures controversy in New Jersey.
“The national report honestly raises more questions than it answers. When you thoroughly read the interview memoranda that were prepared, those interview memoranda raise questions that call into doubt the fundamental findings of the national report,” Assemblyman John Wisniewski, co-chair of New Jersey’s Legislative Select Committee on Investigation, told PJ Media at the event.
“I want to be clear. I have no idea what involvement or non-involvement the governor may or may not have had – that’s an unanswered question in my view — but there’s clearly a number of people who are in the governor’s inner circle who knew about this while it was happening and after it happened. That raises questions about the definitive nature in which the national report essentially says that this issue was concluded,” he also said.
Wisniewski said it’s not believable that Bridget Kelly, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff, chose to close these lanes over an emotional failure between her and another person.
“It just doesn’t add up. We know that’s not the real answer here,” he said.
Christie told the audience that the state is making a $2.5 billion payment to the pension fund this fiscal year – the largest in the history of the state. Alluding to the lack of entitlement reform on the federal level, Christie said New Jersey should set an example.
“The same thing the federal government refuses to do we need to set an example to do in New Jersey. If we expect the people in Washington, D.C., to finally step up to the plate and meet their obligations and tell us the truth on both sides of the aisle, then we better do it ourselves in our own state or we’re nothing but hypocrites,” he told the crowd.
“This is not about me, this is about the next person, whoever he or she is, and what we’re going to leave them to deal with. So we can ignore it if you like, but it’s not going away and it will impact each and every one of you and your businesses and your employees,” he added.
Christie challenged the legislature to leave the state in better fiscal shape for the next generation.
“It is not good enough for us to use up the great resources of our state and this country for our own creature comforts and benefit and say, ‘well, the kids are smart, they’ll figure it out.’ No one did that to us. They gave us a leg up,” he said. “They gave us an opportunity to inherit a greater country than the one they were given. We are now at that crossroads, everybody, because these problems don’t get smaller, they get bigger.”