BY TOM HESTER SR.
Gov. Chris Christie said Monday that he is preparing to propose changes in health care coverage for public employees in New Jersey and he indicated the changes would include reducing benefits and requiring them to pay a share of the coverage.
In a 14-minute telephone interview with on WABC Radio‘s Sean Hannity show, that governor said, "$4.3 billion of New Jersey's ($28 billion) budget goes for health care for public sector workers. Next week I plan to talk about reform.''
Christie said the state public employees' pension system is underfunded by $54 million and that he is attempting to cut benefits, raise the retirement age and the amount of public employee contributions. "If our plan gets put into place, we can cut that deficit in half in 15 years," he said.Christie reiterated his opposition to President Obama‘s fledgling health care program. He described the plan as "insane" and said it will bankrupt the states.
"What the (now Republican-controlled) House needs to do is to stop shoveling money to the states," the governor said. "It's like giving more drugs to addicts. Let everybody (the states) buck up and make the tough (financial) decisions. We are doing that in New Jersey and the public is responding extremely well."
Christie said he did not have New Jersey join 20 other states in suing to stop Obama's health care plan as unconstitutional to save the state money. "For once in our history, New Jersey is taking a free ride," he said. "For once I want to give my citizens, who pay the highest taxes in America, a free ride."
Responding to Democratic and media criticism about vacationing at Disney World in Orlando, Fla. while New Jersey confronted a holiday-season blizzard, Christie said his wife and children come first and he was not going to disappoint them by canceling a long-planned vacation.
The governor said he and his cabinet were prepared three days in advance for the storm and that he believes New Jersey's response was better than that of New York City or Philadelphia. "For the most part, unfortunately, I was on my cell phone,'' he said.
Asked about the Democratic and media criticism, Christie said, "That just rolls of my back."
Reflecting on his first year in office, Christie said his administration overcame a $2.2 billion deficit in the 2009-10 budget and an $11 billion deficit in the 2010-11 budget, which he blamed former Democratic governor Jon Corzine for leaving him to confront. He said he was successful in creating a 2 percent cap on both annual property tax hikes and public employee contracts.
Christie also said that his fledgling economic policies have moved New Jersey from 50th to 48th among states when it comes to best states in which to do business. He blamed Democrats for what he described as raising taxes 116 times during the eight years before he took office.
"In the four years of the Corzine administration, $70 billion in wealth left New Jersey for states like Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania," Christie said. "All have significantly lower tax rates than New Jersey. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure this out."
Christie also commented on his decision to halt the Hudson commuter rail tunnel project, saying that while the tunnel would have been helpful for commuters, the state could not afford it.
"In New Jersey, we did the right thing," the governor said. "We had liberal Democrats screaming and crying because we turned back $3 billion in funding. We simply didn't have the money to do it and I refuse to raise taxes and fees on people of New Jersey to do that. We would all like to have another rail tunnel into New York City but everything comes at a cost. It's time to start putting up or shutting up."