"We're not going to grow out of this," Christie said after outlining the state's escalating debt and health-benefits costs. "It's time to dig in and make a few people unhappy so the greater good can be achieved."
Christie spoke for 35 minutes to a half-full ballroom in the Marriott Wardman Park hotel. Attendees of the annual event often dine and attend parties elsewhere after traveling from New Jersey to Washington aboard a chartered train. Christie had not been on the train.
During his speech, the governor repeated much of the message he has delivered at town-hall events in recent weeks, suggesting that New Jersey could suffer the fate of bankrupt Detroit if it does not address its rising pension and debt costs.
He also mentioned some details he has included in speeches to national audiences, referring to himself as a "conservative Republican governor" and panning party gridlock in Washington.
If New Jersey's leaders cannot reach an agreement regarding pension costs, Christie said, "we're nothing but hypocrites." He did not specify which changes to the pension system he believes are needed.
Citing economic-incentive bills as among measures enacted to improve the state's economy, Christie credited legislative Democrats, saying "none of these things could get done" without their consent.
He described his relationship with Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Gloucester County Democrat who joined the governor in supporting pension reform during Christie's first term, as "the most consistent partnership I've had over the past four years."
Sweeney, who was not at Tuesday's event, has said he opposes further changes to the pension system, saying workers have done their part in contributing more to the system.
Senate lawmakers have passed a measure Christie backs extending the cap on police and firefighter raises, but the Assembly has not moved forward with the bill.
Noting that he was "never running in this state again," Christie said his interest in addressing New Jersey's future fiscal stability was not for his benefit.
Instead, he said, "I don't want to be a part of that generation . . . that failed the next generation of Americans."
"We will be judged by how we conduct ourselves in these decisions," Christie said. He called for making New Jersey "an example of civic-mindedness, self-sacrifice, and American greatness."
The governor's speech followed an announcement by the legislative committee probing the lane closures at the George Washington Bridge that it had issued four subpoenas for testimony, including to Christie's press secretary and a former aide in his administration.