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Christie Talks Pensions, ‘School Patriotism’ [VIDEO/AUDIO]

Gov. Chris Christie‘s 112th town hall meeting started with a focus on Superstorm Sandy and the second round of federal aid headed to New Jersey later this year, but much of the question-and-answer segment addressed issues unrelated to the October 2012 disaster.

From the pay raise proposals of New Jersey’s public utilities, to the Affordable Care Act, no topic was off-limits for the crowd of hundreds in Toms River on Tuesday.

Governor Christie - Toms River Town Hall
Governor Chris Christie answers questions during the 112th Town Hall in Toms River. (Governor’s Office/Tim Larsen)

“I think what you should do is get patriotism back in our schools. It’s gone,” resident Tony Graziano told the governor. “I think you should literally ban political correctness. It’s suffocating our schools.”

The former teacher also suggested Christie “put teeth” in the disciplinary codes of New Jersey schools, and he received no argument from the governor.

“There’s so many cooks in the kitchen with K-12 education right now, with so many different opinions,” Christie said. “We need to get kids back to a good, solid, basic education that prepares them for the challenges they’re going to face when they leave school.”

Christie suggested a sense of “patriotism” is lacking across the country because society has become “so litigiously out of control.”

“Everybody thinks they could file a lawsuit for everything,” the governor said. “What it does is, it puts a wet blanket over the honesty and the candor of the people who are in the classrooms and in the schools.”

Christie also had the chance to defend recent changes to the state’s pension system, and his proposal to make the largest-ever pension payment through the Fiscal Year 2015 budget.

Responding to a woman who was concerned about her and her husband’s higher medical bills and increased pension contributions, the governor didn’t show much sympathy.

“The pension system today is $52 billion underfunded,” said Christie, who called for a $2.25 billion payment last week, an increase of almost $670 million from last year.

The proposed payment, however, is hundreds of millions dollars less than the amount required by law. Democrats indicated they won’t sign a budget without a complete payment, and no agreement could lead to a state government shutdown.

Ninety-four percent of the year-to-year increase in the budget is devoted to pensions, public employees’ health benefits and debt service.

Christie suggested the diminishing pension fund has been ignored too frequently in the past 10 to 12 years.

“We can’t afford to be silent about it — easiest thing for me to do would be to pay nothing,” Christie said. “And then I could have a big surplus, have a huge tax cut, do other things, spend money on other programs.”

The final question for Christie referred to the delays and problems surrounding Obamacare. When asked what residents should do, the governor advised everyone to “elect a new president.” The comment received a standing ovation.

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