Christie tells D.C. how to get things done, Jersey-style

Posted: July 10, 2012

WASHINGTON - With seven weeks to go before the National Republican Convention in Tampa, Fla., Gov. Christie traveled to the nation's capital Monday to school a rapt audience at the Brookings Institution on how things get done Jersey-style.

Christie, 49, a Republican, touted his accomplishments and called gridlock "an excuse of failed leadership."

Washington politicians could find inspiration in New Jersey's recent agreements overhauling public pensions and benefits, capping tax increases, and retooling teacher tenure rules, he told about 100 fellows and other academics at the nonprofit research and policy institute.

"I want people to know that government can work for them, but they need leaders who are willing to take risks," Christie said. "We shouldn't just use the party doctrine and don't stray. We should be telling people how we think and how we feel."

He added, "If you're honest with people, then they'll trust you. If they trust you, then they'll follow you."

Christie, who requested to speak at the left-leaning think tank, made the stop following a blitz of national television and radio interviews that began after he called a special legislative session last week to demand that Democrats cut taxes immediately. Not all of his media exposure was positive: An unscripted outburst landed him on a celebrity gossip website.

Christie remains on the list of possible vice presidential picks by presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. But he hasn't received as much attention as other contenders in recent weeks, nor has he been told if he'll speak at the convention, Christie said Monday.

The governor's message of bipartisanship seemed to resonate with the crowd.

"Getting budgets done on time with a divided government, that's a pretty impressive feat," said Tracy M. Gordon, an economic studies fellow at Brookings.

Of course, it only heard Christie's side of the story.

During his 40-minute talk, Christie said that politics scuttled the tax-cut plan he and Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) worked out this spring. Christie claimed the deal fell apart because the GOP convention was nearing and Democrats didn't want him to be able to brag about cutting taxes.

But Democrats rebuffed his call for an immediate tax cut, citing the state's slow revenue growth. Christie's revenue forecasts missed the mark in March, April, and May, leading the state to take money from dedicated funds to shore up the budget that closed June 30. Christie wanted to ram through the tax cut simply so he could brag about it in Tampa, Democrats argued.

In his remarks on Monday, Christie slammed the "gimmick"-filled "playbook" that states have used to balance their budgets. He did not mention his plan to use money previously set aside for clean energy, affordable housing, and transportation to balance the fiscal 2013 budget.

The budget submitted by the Democratic-controlled Legislature included $183 million held in escrow. Party leaders said they would put the money toward a property-tax cut to be implemented when revenue growth strengthens.

Christie's budget relies on growth of 7.2 percent through June 30, more than twice what any other state has projected.

Gordon, who studies state governments, said that predicting tax collections in places such as New Jersey, New York, and California was difficult because the states rely heavily on high-earners whose income is tied to their personal investments.

She agreed that Christie's forecast was optimistic. Most states saw income tax revenue growth in the third quarter of 2011, but that has slowed, Gordon said.

"That's a concern," she said. "The growth might be moderating, or perhaps that was just a blip."

As for Christie's use of one-shot cash injections, Gordon was sympathetic.

"When your back is against the wall, there's only so much you can do," she said.

Christie, who spent time with his family in Seaside Heights last week, looked tanned. His trip down the Shore was not without incident.

The pugnacious governor was caught on a cellphone camera berating a man on the boardwalk who allegedly had a problem with the governor's policies involving teachers. The video, which shows Christie clutching an ice cream cone and hollering at the man, appeared on TMZ.com and its syndicated TV show on Friday and generated national headlines.

Christie's office has said that the man used obscenity in the presence of the governor's family, but on camera he is only heard telling the governor to "just take care of the teachers."

Christie recounted his accomplishments to his Brookings audience and took only four questions, two of them about federal "intrusions" on states' rights.

He tailored his speech for a national market, toeing the GOP lines on tax cuts, local control of education, and President Obama's health-care reform law.

Christie said his staff was analyzing state-run health-care exchanges and expansion of Medicaid benefits, as required under the Affordable Care Act, which was upheld last month by the U.S. Supreme Court. He said he was unsure how the issues would be resolved in New Jersey.

"How much are we going to need to expand our [Medicaid] program, because we have some of the most generous benefits already," he said.

In discussing his plan to mandate treatment for nonviolent offenders who are drug users, a program that would be phased in over five years, he took the opportunity to couch his proposal in terms of the abortion debate.

"If you're pro-life, as I am, you can't be pro-life just in the womb," he said. "Every life is precious and every one of God's creatures can be redeemed."

When asked if he would accept federal money to rehire public-sector employees who lost their jobs due to the recession, Christie said no.

"The state is on the hook to pay for them beyond the time the subsidy ends. Where's that money come from? You know, I have the highest property taxes in America to begin with."

Christie said public employees were "extraordinarily expensive, and extraordinarily difficult to manage."

"Please don't send me any more money to hire more public employees, please don't," he said. "I don't need any more."


Contact staff writer Joelle Farrell at 856-779-3237, jfarrell@phillynews.com or @joellefarrell on Twitter.

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