Christie addresses property taxes, budget at town hall meeting in Mount Laurel

MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. - March 13, 2014

"No matter how much the economy grows, we can't keep up with the promises we've made in the past," said Governor Chris Christie.

At his 113th Townhall meeting held at the YMCA in Mount Laurel, Governor Chris Christie told the audience that more benefit reforms are needed because $.94 of every state tax dollar collected goes to pay for public worker pensions, healthcare and debt.

Without more cutbacks the governor says New Jersey could one day face bankruptcy.

"It's just difficult stuff, tough medicine, but if we don't take it, Detroit, the horizon for Chicago, if they don't change, Philadelphia, it's going to be us," said Governor Christie.

The governor's remarks were interrupted several times by hecklers shouting at about his handling of Sandy relief aid and the George Washington Bridge scandal.

Police removed one protester, Rowan University student Michael Brein, after he began shouting about supposed inequities in the distribution of Superstorm Sandy aid.

Christie tried ignoring Brein by turning his back on him. When that didn't work, the Republican governor reeled around, telling Brein to sit down or be thrown out.

"Either sit down and keep quiet or get out. One or the other. We're done with you," Governor Christie told the heckler.

"What does it say about your leadership that you hire crooks and liars?" asked Kaitlee Whiting.

Local police escorted Brein from the building, and five others were shown the door after yelling about the political retribution scandal and other matters. The disruption appeared to have been loosely coordinated by citizens' groups that have opposed Christie's housing and tax policies.

In all six people including four Rowan University students were removed by police.

The hecklers were not arrested and no charges would be filed, state police said.

Outside, the somewhat rumpled, unshaven 19-year-old Brein said he expected Christie wouldn't call on him because of how he looks. He spouted a litany of anti-Christie complaints, including that the town halls are staged affairs in Republican-controlled areas that are inaccessible to most people because they are held during work hours.

At the event, Christie told the crowd that the hecklers wanted attention, pointing to the 13 television cameras and score of reporters covering the event.

The intended focus of the town hall, state spending, was largely overshadowed. The governor did announce that average property tax bills, already the nation's highest, rose a relatively modest 1.7 percent last year, which he said is evidence that his policies are working.

Christie has returned to his signature town halls in recent weeks as he tries to shake the scandal and investigations that are dogging his administration and raising questions about his chances in a potential 2016 presidential race. The venues have been carefully scouted by the administration, and the events have mostly occurred without incident, until Thursday's, his most disruptive yet.

Re-elected last fall, Christie became known during his first term as liable to pick a fight during town halls. He famously called a Navy SEAL an idiot during a shouting match and tangled with a public school teacher who was inspired by the event to run for Congress. His staff circulated many of these moments in YouTube videos.

Security appeared to be ramped up for Thursday's town hall as well. Attendees were screened with wands, and the auditorium was ringed with local and state police, both in uniform and plainclothes.

Such security is not extraordinary with town hall crowds usually exceeding 500 people, said Capt. Stephen Jones of the New Jersey State Police.

Despite the disruptions, the audience remained mostly supportive; some booed the disrupters.

Skip Brockner of Collingswood, a retired truck driver who Christie called on to ask the final question, began by apologizing for the demonstrators.

"They could have done it more politely," he said.

"I think he handled himself very well," said Melissa Ferguson. "It's really hard to be in New Jersey and face arbitrary questions from pretty random strangers."

It was 6 months ago today that traffic lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge were shut down by the Governor's aides, triggering a national political scandal. But the hecklerswere the only ones who brought it up at Thursday's meeting.

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