He touted the first steps of the “New Jersey comeback” in front of hundreds on Tuesday afternoon at the Haddonfield Middle School auditorium. It was the 83rd town hall meeting that Christie has hosted since his tenure as this state’s governor.
The last time he had been in Haddonfield? May of 2009 when he stood at the steps of the Haddonfield Borough Hall and accepted an endorsement for governor by the then governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romeny.
He returned the favor and endorsed Romney for the republican presidential candidacy in October of 2011.
In the hot, muggy auditorium Christie said the next 19-days for the state would be him against the assembly democrats in Trenton. It’s those democrats, he said, that are holding up the fiscal year 2013 budget, which includes income tax relief for every New Jerseyan.
The state legislature is like a kid with a book report, Christie said, they got their assignment in January with a June 30 deadline and has waited until the final minute to finish the report. For the 2013 budget, Christie has proposed a $32.1 billion budget, which he said represents a smaller budget than the fiscal year of 2008.
“There are 19-day lefts for the legislature to provide tax relief for the citizens of New Jersey,” Christie said.
In his budget address in February, Christie called for a 10-percent income tax cut for all residents of the state to be phased in over three years. The proposal, he said, would give taxpayers $9.35 billion in relief over the next decade.
The state has a June 30 deadline to pass the budget.
“Now is the time for us to give you money back. It’s time for us to cut taxes,” he said to a round of applause.
Christie addressed the state health and pension costs that ran rampant throughout New Jersey prior to his term. To combat costs, he signed into law a bipartisan pension and health benefit reform legislation, which saw state employees contributing more to their health insurance costs and paying more into their pensions.
“The majority of public employees in this state paid zero for their healthcare costs,” Christie said, joking that if he offered that right now to anyone in the auditorium they would jump at the chance for the deal.
Through these pension and healthcare reforms, Christie said that the changes have allowed Haddonfield to save $400,000 this year alone.
Keeping down state costs that ran wild during the past 10 years is of the utmost importance, he said, and will help in reducing the state’s high property taxes.
But while keeping these costs down, Christie said it’s his intention to increase much needed funding to all of the state school districts, instead of just the 31 Abbott Districts.
About 63 percent of all school funding goes to these 31 districts, Christie said, while the remaining 500 plus districts share the left over 37 percent of state funding.
For 2013, Christie is proposing that the Haddonfield School District receiving an increase of more than $208,000 in state aid, up to a total of $846,128.
“School aid will be increased in Haddonfield by 32.5 percent,” he said.
While on the subjects of school, Christie addressed an audience member’s question and said that the state needs to do more to weed out ineffective tenured teachers that are costing the state millions.
Tenure reform is incredibly important, he said, and pointed to the Newark School District. Right now there are over 100 tenured teachers in the district that are being paid to stay at home because the district has determined that it’s better to pay these teachers than to let them be at the front of a classroom and continue to do a poor job.
After three-years and a day teachers have 100 percent job security for life, he said, no other employee has this kind of security. Only 17 teachers lost their tenure last year due to performance evaluations.
It’s important to reward the excellent teachers in the state, he said, which is why he trumps merit pay for educators.
“If you’re doing better you’re paid more. The unions, though, say we can’t figure out the effective and ineffective teachers in the state,” he said. “It doesn’t take parents long to know if their kids get the good or bad teacher. Maybe by the first parent teacher night at the school.”
Teachers in front of a classroom are the most important factor in education and a school, he said, the best should be paid better than the ineffective.
As he took questions for more than an hour from the assembled crowd, he delighted the audience when he called up a young third grade student named Rebecca Casper to the front of the room.
“My teacher asked my class who the governor of New Jersey was and I was the only one who knew,” she said, as Christie laughed at her answer.
He shook her hand and thanked her for knowing who he was.
After more than two-hours Christie thanked the assembled group for listening to him talk about the state in the hot auditorium. Being governor can be an isolating experience, he said, and many days the only people he sees are his staff and family. Getting out into the fabric of a community in the town hall meetings keep you grounded, he said, and let you know what is really affecting the state.
He left the crowd with a promise.
“I will continue to fight the fights worth fighting,” he said.
Want to view a video of the entire town hall meeting? Check out the Haddonfield Civic Association’s complete video here.