Christie returns to town-hall circuit to sell pension overhaul, tell New Jersey he still cares

Government And Institutions Associated Press

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is back on the town-hall circuit for the first time in six months with a focus on selling voters his latest plan for a public worker pension and health benefit overhaul.

Continue Reading Below

And while he's at it, the Republican is telling the people in his home state that he's still in charge, even as he considers whether to run for president next year.

Christie's appearance in Moorestown on Wednesday came a day after he delivered a budget proposal — along with a pension plan — to the state's Democrat-controlled Legislature.

"We fix this one problem, New Jersey's going to be in great shape," Christie said. "This is the one last big problem on the budget side that I've got to fix."

His plan is to freeze public employees' pensions and to pass a state constitutional amendment to guarantee what already is promised is paid, then to create a new 401(k)-style system run by employee groups such as unions. He also wants to make health insurance for public workers less generous and put the savings toward pensions.

Christie did not mention one factor that could complicate his plan, as well as his overall $33.8 billion budget proposal: A state judge said Monday that he and the Legislature must restore nearly $1.6 billion to the pension funds for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

Continue Reading Below

The first question from the public came from Joseph Griffin II, who lives in Moorestown and wanted to know whether he would be able to remain in the state after he retires.

Christie told him that depends largely on what happens with pensions. "This is the pivotal time right now," he said.

Most of the questions Christie fielded dealt with details of governing, such as restoring the shore after Superstorm Sandy, collecting child-support payments and funding for homes for people with developmental disabilities. He handled them the way he often does — by promising to have his staff call to talk it through more.

The governor wasn't asked about his plans for 2016, but he addressed them anyway.

"There's this sense or feeling that that decision will determine whether I do my job or not, whether I'm here or not," he said. "The point is that I'm focused on this job, I care about this job."

Besides, he said, voters knew when he sought re-election in 2013 that he might pursue the presidency during his second term.

___

Follow Mulvihill at http://www.twitter.com/geoffmulvihill