Ann Curry, Today Show Anchor: Chris Christie is the Republican governor of New Jersey and was the first, as we just heard, to take on public employees' unions. Governor Chris Christie, good morning to you.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie: Good morning, Ann.
Ann Curry: You probably are the best person to ask about a New York Times editorial in this morning's paper that basically talks about, says that there is a political agenda by Republican governors not just from Wisconsin but also in Ohio and Indiana that in each case. Quote, "Republican talk of balancing budgets is cover for the real purpose of gutting the political force of middle class state workers who are steady supporters of Democrats and pose a threat to a growing conservative agenda." Is there a coordinated Republican political agenda to this attack or this effort, this pointed effort at unions?
Governor Chris Christie: No. If you look at it, these fights are going on all over the country, not just with Republicans, but with Democrats. Look at California, Jerry Brown is talking about cutting take home pay 8 to10% and laying off a bunch of state workers. This is about re-shifting our priorities. So if you want to do things in New Jersey like I want to do, to provide property tax relief for middle class taxpayers, well you know, you can't continue to pay health benefits in New Jersey where the government pays 92% of the cost of health care for each person. That doesn't happen anywhere. And so we have to make these choices and they have to be part of the shared sacrifice.
Ann Curry The idea that some critics have that you are making unions scapegoats for a problem that really wasn't created by unions but was really created by Wall Street, created the banks and the downturn in the economy, what do you say to the critics?
Governor Chris Christie: What I say to those critics are that you're not paying attention. Because if you were paying attention, the problems here that are created on the state budget, sure we have a deficit problem that was helped by the economic downturn. But what we also have are benefits and costs that are out of control. The family policy that most state workers in New Jersey get, $24,000 a year, and they pay 8% of the cost and the taxpayers pay the rest. We cannot afford these things and we have a pension deficit of $54 billion dollars in New Jersey. That wasn't created by Wall Street. That was created by the fact that the benefits are too high and the payments in are too low.
Ann Curry: But this budget problem isn't just with states that have these kind of collective bargaining deals. For example, there are many states that have denied collective bargaining rights that also have very large budget deficits. So in some ways it doesn't sort of make sense, the idea that the unions really are to blame.
Governor Chris Christie: I'm not saying it's just about collective bargaining, Ann. Because even in states as you point out, where collective bargaining doesn't exist, legislators have been too generous to public employees over time. So it's not just an issue of collective bargaining. It's an issue of wanting to say yes all the time as a public official. You never want to say no to anybody because oh, you're much more popular if you say yes. You know what? It's time to say no to things, to be able to say yes to the things that will help to grow our economy and to create a more prosperous future.
Ann Curry: Well it hasn't hurt your popularity. Because as an example of how much the Republican Party has fallen in love with your message, many are pushing you now to run for President in 2012. In fact, Ann Coulter is saying you are the only Republican who would win. Now you're shaking your head already just slightly, but you keep saying that you're not running, ok. If that's true, who do you think is in line to best beat President Barack Obama in 2012?
Governor Chris Christie: I don't think there is any front runner right now. I think the field is really wide open. I don't even know who the field is going to be entirely. Is Mitch Daniels going to run? I don't know. Is Haley Barbour going to run? I don't know. You have to see who the complete field is going to be before you see who the front runner is. I'm going to just continue to sit back, do my job in New Jersey and we'll see.
Ann Curry: Okay. But what about this, I have to ask about this official, one of your top advisers who said basically he didn't want to leave money on the table. Basically he's forming a Political Action Committee and that's sort of has raised everybody's eyebrows into thinking you are running. Are you really not running?
Governor Chris Christie: There is no chance. Zero chance.
Ann Curry: Well, okay.
Governor Chris Christie: Under any circumstances. Close the door and nail it shut.
Ann Curry: What are you raising the money for?
Governor Chris Christie: Well first of all, I don't have a federal PAC. That was an old law partner of mine who said he thinks it might be a good idea. But I haven't done it, I don't have plans to do it and the fact is, I'm not running.
Ann Curry: Okay. You're raising money then but you're also losing weight.
Governor Chris Christie: Trying.
Ann Curry: How much?
Governor Chris Christie: We don't give numbers out, Ann. You set ourselves up for failure!
Ann Curry: Come on. You're talking to me.
Governor Chris Christie: Look at you. Give me a break Ann, you don't have to worry about it.
Ann Curry: We all do!
Governor Chris Christie: Come on, Ann.
Ann Curry: You look good.
Governor Chris Christie: Listen, I feel better. what's most important is I started to do this because I have four children between 7 and 17. I want to be here for them, for the long haul. So they're not worried about the numbers and neither am I. It's that I'm feeling better. We are moving in the right direction. It's just like New Jersey. We're not better yet, but we are moving in the right direction.
Ann Curry: You're quick to turn that. By the way, just to mention, just to say, a lot of political candidates start losing weight, that's the first sign. Just saying, for President.
Governor Chris Christie: Well listen, also next week I'll be married 25 years. That's also one of the spurs. I want my wife to hang in there with me.
Ann Curry: All right. Well, I do, too. Governor, thank you so much.
Governor Chris Christie: Thanks Ann, I appreciate it.