DENVILLE TOWNSHIP — The crowd was familiar and friendly, and Gov. Chris Christie soaked it up like a sponge full of energy.
Speaking at a charter school in Denville Township before a packed gymnasium, the governor bragged about how he had Democrats fighting with him, not over spending money but over cutting spending.
“To have Democrats arguing with me about which taxes to cut, I feel like I have died and gone to heaven,” the governor said at his town hall event at Morris County School of Technology, a charter school in his home county.
He noted that despite cutting education money, test scores in the state remained high overall. However, the significant achievement gap among black, Hispanic and lower-income students also remains despite more state dollars going to urban districts.
The governor has said he will increase aid to schools this year while simultaneously cutting income taxes for all. The Republican also said he doesn’t know what could be fairer than his proposed across-the-board 10 percent income tax cut he has proposed. Democrats have attacked the plan as a giveaway to the rich, who would save the most because they pay the most in income taxes, a large part of which goes toward education funding. The majority of New Jersey residents would save upward of a few hundred dollars a year.
And in his trademark blunt language, he called the massive package of more than 100 bills sent to him at the close of the Legislative session this month “a pile of crap,” eliciting a quick response from Democrats who saw many of their tax-cutting initiatives vetoed.
“For families struggling to save for their children’s college education, the Legislature passed my bill that would establish a tax-deductible savings plan, another initiative our governor has deemed worthless. That says a lot about what he thinks of the future of New Jersey,” state Sen. Barbara Buono, D-Edison, fired back. “While crass put-downs may make for viral YouTube moments, in the end they reveal a callous disregard for the economic plight facing New Jersey families.”
At the event, his fifth of the year of the year, Christie was also asked about gay marriage and medical marijuana.
He told a woman whose husband was suffering from fibromyalgia — a disease resulting in pain and tenderness of the joints, muscles, tendons and other soft tissue — that he would not offer incentives to municipalities to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate within their borders, saying municipalities should be able to exercise their own authority. Christie has been critical of New Jersey’s law that allows medical marijuana for patients with certain conditions, and the dispensaries have been slow to launch. The state selected six nonprofit groups to grow and sell the pot, but so far only one has announced full zoning approval for its operations. Others have run into local opposition.
Meanwhile, as an Assembly committee was hearing testimony on a bill to legalize gay marriage, Christie said he’s being “magnanimous” in his offer to help Democrats get a gay marriage referendum on the ballot by guaranteeing enough Republican votes for the proposed constitutional amendment.
“We’re making it really easy for them. This is the bargain of their lives,” he said in a mocking tone. “How much more magnanimous can I be? What more do you want? Me to campaign for it?”
The Denville event came after days of intense criticism over Christie’s comments that people in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s would have been happier to have the matter settled by public vote rather than by dying in the streets.