Bill Bennett - Morning in America radio program
Interview NJ Governor Chris Christie – 3.24.10
Chris Christie: Good morning Bill, how are you today?
Bill Bennett: Great. Congratulations this is the first time I get to say it to you in person. It’s wonderful. Good for you sir.
Chris Christie: Thanks Bill. Thank you.
Bill Bennett: How you doing?
Chris Christie: I feel like we’re doing great. We’ve been in office nine weeks yesterday and in that nine weeks we’ve $13 billion dollars in spending. Which is about a billion, six, a week. Between the fiscal year 10 budget and the budget proposal I made a week ago regard fiscal year 11. We had a huge amount of work to do but we got it all down without any tax increases. Cut spending, close the budget cap, and have now proposed that budget to the legislature. And we’re talking about, two nights ago on Monday night, we got through the legislature and signed three huge pension and benefit reform bills on public employees that reduce our pension cost and reduce our health care cost. So it’s been some good work for nine weeks.
Bill Bennett: And so I have to be fair on the other side of the ledger you have increased murmuring and whining a great deal.
Chris Christie: That’s for sure, I have heard that too.
Bill Bennett: Okay, I was reading this morning about, it just seems to me eminently reasonable a field I know education, you’re asking people to accept a pay freeze rather than a 4% increase. Perfectly reasonable, that’s not a cut really is it?
Chris Christie: No, it isn’t. And here is the thing, Governor Corzine last year spent a billion dollars of federal stimulus money and baked it into our K-12 education aid. Now of course we didn’t get that billion dollars again this year. I was able to reduce the cut to $828 million in K-12 school aid. And what I’ve said to the teachers union is, if in fact you were to take a pay freeze for one year and contribute 1.5% of your salary to pay for the cost your health benefits, that we would be able to close 800 of that $828 million cut. And so no teachers would need to be laid off. No services would have to be cut at the local level and that’s what I’m calling on them to do. It’s shared sacrifice, everyone is sacrificing on this budget. And when we have 10% unemployment still in New Jersey, and we’re in the top ten in foreclosures, I don’t think our citizens are in mush of a mood to hear about giving public employees 4 or 5% raises and paying 100% of their health care cost.
Bill Bennett: What kind of response are you getting, do you have any hope of any kind of positive reaction.
Chris Christie: I live in hope.
Bill Bennett: Yeah sure.
Chris Christie: But I think this is something where the public is going to have to stand up and start to demand it. I think the unions general position, as you know, as these public sector unions have gotten stronger and stronger and more and more arrogant is to say that we don’t care. We’re taking ours no matter what. But I think the school boards understand that we need to this because they don’t want to cut these services or raise property taxes.
Bill Bennett: Of course. You’ve got general belt-tightening and everybody has to pull in. And if people generally are in support of this and a group stands up and says no but we want our own then they embarrass themselves. And I take it that you got a lot of strong support for what you’re trying to do. Right? The people who put you are pleased in what you are doing?
Chris Christie: We do. We’ve gotten great public support, in both of terms in what we seeing in poll numbers in the polls that have been taken since my election and since I announced these budgets. But also just anecdotally, like yesterday I stopped in a dinner in Haslet, NJ which is in Monmouth county, a blue collar town, kind of a Reagan Democrat town, and I walked in there to go and have some lunch and the people in the dinner broke out into spontaneous applause when we walked in.
Bill Bennett: Really. There you go.
Chris Christie: Yup. Really good. And what they’re saying to me, and these are blue collar trade union workers and the building trades, middle class folks who say to me don’t give in, don’t back down, we should have done this years ago, you have to fix it. And so these are tough things to do but the people of New Jersey are ready to do these tough things and they just want someone to lead them there and that’s the job I got sent here to do.
Bill Bennett: Well, that’s great. By the way you and I still need to walk into Ponzios in Cherry Hill.
Chris Christie: Absolutely, they’re a great spot in New Jersey. I will definitely do that with you Bill.
Bill Bennett: See if they jump up on the chairs and applaud the both of us. Listen I want to see if we can generalize this, I want to come back to specifics as wish Governor, but later on in the day I’m going to see one of your colleagues Mitch Daniels in Indiana who is doing a very good job and things similar to what you’re doing. You guys are teaching us that we can do what we have to do. And of course you do that, that’s what governors do. There’s a lesson here isn’t there, for Washington. Because we were talking last night, we had a forum here in Philadelphia Governor, and you know I think we have to say to Washington, alright you’ve spent 14 months on this priority of yours, now can we address the priority which is solvency. The solvency of our country, the solvency of our government. Can you come up with a plan to save some money and it seems to me that look if they’re going look, they got to look to the states.
Chris Christie: There is no doubt. And Mitch Daniels, your right, it’s really an example for all of us. I mean I’ve spent some time with Governor Daniels. I stayed with him at the Governor’s residence back right after the beginning of my term. And talked to him a lot about what they did in Indiana and he has proved how you can do more with less. And has made some really bold proposals that he got accomplished over the course of the six years now that he has been governor of Indiana. You can definitely do it. And it is an example for Washington and I think folks are really concerned about the fact that we get the fact that we can’t continue to just print money and spend money. That’s going to kill the future of our children.
Bill Bennett: How’s the relations with the legislature as you’re doing this. What measure of support? What measure of opposition?
Governor Christie: Well, so far so good Bill. The Democrats in the legislature passed pension reform bills. 36-0 in the Senate an 65- 5 in the General Assembly. Now there are 47 Democrats in the General Assembly and 23 Democrats in the Senate. SO, of course we kept all of our Republican votes, but we got a significant majority of the Democratic votes and so on the pension and benefit reforms they know the time has come. I think they were just waiting for a Governor who would actually sign these bills. To do it. Corzine would not do it, I did. And I waited until 8:30 on Monday night for them to pass the bills. Had them walk them down the halls to me and we had a signing at 8:30 night so they knew how serious I was about wanting to get this done. Now on the budget we are going to have some back and forth and of course they want me to raise taxes and I am simply not going to it. I’ve made it very clear to them but I’m sure we’ll hear a lot of political rhetoric over the course of the next few months where they try to test my resolve but I’m not going to be raising taxes. So we’ll learn about each other.
Bill Bennett: Folks I just want to make a parenthetical comment before the Governor leaves which is, this is the voice of the new Republican leadership. Reasonable, cooperative, serious, cheerful, and full of resolve. And it’s just great to hear this. They knew then didn’t they, given those numbers, those margins, they knew what the right thing to do was they just waited leadership to come in and do it. Is the lesson here, do what you said you were going to do, and be bold, and try to bring as many people with you as possible.
Governor Christie: That’s absolutely it Bill. My slogan has been since the transition, I’m going to do what I said I was going to do during the campaign. I feel like I have a mandate to do that. I won the election by a good margin by 100K votes in a state where there are 700K more democrats than republicans. So we feel like we have a mandate to do it and the reaction from the public, even though they are upset about the fact that these cuts hurt a lot of worthwhile programs, the overriding concern is we’ve got to get this right we have to stop spending ourselves into oblivion. And they just wanted someone in the Governor’s office who was willing to take the hits that would come along with it from the special interests and to punch back, and I’m doing both.
Bill Bennett: Let me ask you in the minute or so we have left, what advice you have to us, to the rest of the country about how to react to this healthcare, what we regard as a debacle obviously AG’s are challenging the Constitutionality. What else should we be doing and thinking?
Chris Christie: We are looking at that in NJ as well. I have my AG and Commissioner of Health looking at these bills to see what the impact on NJ is going to be. But listen I think we just have to continue to stand up for our principles. Our message as Republicans should be very simple that we stand for smaller government, more efficient government that does what government needs to do, and nothing more. Unfortunately we’ve moved away from that significantly in Washington, DC but I think people understand that message very clearly and in a state like NJ. Which as you know is as blue a state as anywhere, for people to be responsive to that kind of message should send a little lesson to everybody across America, it is possible if you just speak bluntly and directly to people and don’t try to play political word games with them you can get people to understand and buy into your program.
Bill Bennett: Yep, and you know the old lesson about how to show something’s a crooked stick? Lay a straight stick next to it. You’re laying a straight stick Governor. We admire you very very much.
Chris Christie: Let’s hit Ponzia’s. Let me know the next time you are in Jersey.
Bill Bennett: Absolutely. I will come at the drop of a hat or the drop of a stick. Thanks Governor Christie.