I thoroughly enjoyed attending my first Christie town hall in a long time on Wednesday, Save Jerseyans, though to be 100% honest with you, the pall of a budget battle palpably hung heavily over Governor Chris Christie’s 122nd such gathering hosted at an elementary school in suburban Haddon Heights.
Pension protesters (see right) overwhelmingly supplanted those determined to discuss alleged pending Bridgegate-related indictments hours before a Mercer County Superior Court judge sided with the Administration’s position over that of organized labor.
Still, the Governor’s opening comments to the 300-ish attendees were less optimistic and upbeat than usual - the fictional Marty McFly might’s said “heavy” – and the tenor of the day’s discussion didn’t get too much more chipper from there on out despite his best attempts to mix in a little humor (and he did get some laugh lines as per usual). Also noticeably absent were any of the Governor’s situational allies in the South Jersey Democrat Machine; only Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli, Jr. was in attendance, a staunch support of police consolidated backed by the Administration, but he politely got up and left half way through the event.
No Steve Sweeney, nor Dana Redd, nor Donald Norcross (even though Heights is in his district).
A sign of the mood 45 minutes north on I-295? Christie was stoic, sober yet undeniably fatalistic about the next steps in the choreographed budget drama. “…[the Democrats] passed yesterday a whole bunch of these taxes in committee,” Christie explained, providing a little background for his audience. “I assume they are going to pass them tomorrow in the full senate and assembly.”
It was a verbal shrug and little more. The Governor unambiguously promised to veto any tax increases, including a proposed millionaire’s tax, an announcement that drew his only major sustained applause line of the day save for his entrance and exit, and the Republican executive also renewed his call for an end to New Jersey’s dubious distinction as one of only two American states with both an estate AND inheritance tax. Amen.
“People move, and they move to North Carolina,” he added. “They say ‘I have enough money to live here, but not enough to die here and saddle my children with those taxes.’” How is this even up for debate? That was his point, and it’s one that drew plenty of nods.
Less promisingly but not surprisingly, no mention whatsoever was made of budget cuts, either negotiated or effectuated by line-item veto. He kept a consistent focus on the revenue side of things since the legislature threatened new tax hikes on Thursday, and the Governor was more than willing to accuse the Sweeney/Prieto-led Trenton Democrats of openly waging class warfare on Garden State taxpayers…