Christie tries to sell budget at town hall, urges parents not to opt out of new school tests



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FAIR LAWN, New Jersey — Gov. Chris Christie defended his budget plan for the upcoming fiscal year and urged parents not to opt out of new standardized tests aligned with the Common Core standards during a town hall event Wednesday.

Christie spoke and answered questions for more than two hours in the auditorium of the Fair Lawn Recreation Center in Bergen County.

Some state Democrats have criticized Christie, who is considering a run for president, for spending his entire budget address last week focused on the problem of growing state workers' pension and health benefit costs, which he says threaten to crowd out other spending.

"The reason I only spoke out about one issue is because there really is only one issue that matters," he said.

Christie has proposed paying $1.3 billion into the pension system for public sector employees for the year that starts July 1 — more than any governor in history, he said — but far less than the roughly $3 billion he had agreed to during a much-touted deal reached during his first term.

More than a dozen unions this week announced their plans to sue over the contribution, and a judge ruled in February the administration was on the hook for nearly $1.6 billion in payments it deferred for the current fiscal year. The administration is appealing that decision.

But Christie said that paying the full sum just isn't an option and would require raising sales or income taxes significantly.

"I wish that I could pay that money," he said, but argued it would put the state in an "untenable and unacceptable situation."

Many of the questions asked Wednesday came from parents concerned about changes to the state's disability housing system. Christie was also asked about the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests, which debuted in state schools this week.

While Christie has increasingly voiced concerns about the Common Core standards, which are deeply unpopular with many conservative voters, he urged parents to give the new tests a chance.

"We have to test," he said, reserving judgment. "I'm not going to kill PARCC before we even take PARCC."

Christie also said that he plans to hold town hall events every week for the foreseeable future, which could serve as good practice for similar events in early-voting states like New Hampshire if he chooses to run.

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