The money Christie impounded had been slated, among other things, for local school districts, hospitals, and the state's commuter-rail system, as well as colleges and universities.
Christie went on to detail his fight to close what he described as a $11 billion gap in the following year's $29 billion state budget:
[The Democrats] were gonna raise what, in New Jersey, we call "the Millionaires' Tax."…But the New Jersey "Millionaires' Tax" applies to anyone, individual or business, who makes over $400,000 a year. That's called New Jersey math. [Laughter.] And, what's great, I say to people all over the country: "If you're not a millionaire but you want to feel like one [More laughter], come to New Jersey! We'll tax you like a millionaire even if you're not one!"…
So what happened? They send me the tax, and that Senate president I told you about, Steve Sweeney, he walked it down to me, with the cameras following him.…And I looked at him and I said: "Steve, stand here for one second. This isn't gonna take long. Sit down." So he sat down; the cameras are all going, and I just sat down in a chair right down in the outer office and I took out this pen and I vetoed it, and I handed it right back to him. And I said, "Take this back where it came from, 'cause I ain't signing it." And that was it. That was the end of it. [Applause.]
In the end, Christie's budget, which he said the Democrats had initially viewed as "dead on arrival," was passed "with 99.8 percent of the line-items exactly as I had presented it to them in March.…And we balanced the budget without any new or increased taxes."
At this point, Christie promised to tell a "good" story about Sweeney, his Democratic partner/rival in the state Senate. It involved the state's recent overhaul of public employees' pensions and health benefits to close what Christie described as a $54 billion deficit in the fund. By day, he said, he would go "out on the stump and beat the bejeezus out of" Sweeney, a former union leader. Then they would negotiate privately in Christie's office "late in the afternoon or evening." According to Christie, Sweeney told him: "I'm going to be your partner on this. We're going to fix it. And we're going to fix it the right way."
The Assembly speaker, also a Democrat, got involved in the talks. "Most of the Democrats in the Legislature wanted to have nothing to do with this bill," Christie said. But "these two leaders stood firm." The Senate passed the bill 24-15, with 16 Republicans and only 8 Democrats voting aye. In the Assembly, Christie managed to bring all of the Republicans on board, and enough Dems to get it passed.
This "true bipartisan coming together," as Christie described the deal, would be short-lived. Just days after the Colorado shindig, the governor would again face off with legislators, this time over the fiscal 2012 budget. "I'm gonna get on a plane and go back to New Jersey and fight the next four days over the budget that we need to pass between now and June 30," he told the crowd. "They're proposing the Millionaires' Tax again. You know, I cannot believe how stupid these people are, I really can't. They keep…Like, you saw this movie last year! You know how it's gonna end!"
Indeed, just days after the Koch soiree, the Legislature delivered a prenegotiated budget to the governor. Christie—who, according to the Star-Ledger, had promised to work out last-minute details with Sweeney—instead used his line-item veto to make what Sweeney called vindictive cuts targeting people and institutions who had sided against the governor during the negotiations.
In one instance, Christie cut a fellowship program run by a Rutgers University professor who had served as a referee in the state's contentious redistricting fight. He also "mowed down a series of Democratic add-ons, including $45 million in tax credits for the working poor, $9 million in health care for the working poor, $8 million for women's health care, another $8 million in AIDS funding and $9 million in mental-health services," wrote Star-Ledger columnist Tom Moran. "But the governor added $150 million in school aid for the suburbs, including the wealthiest towns in the state. That is enough to restore all the cuts just listed."
In response, Sweeney went nuclear on Christie, claiming he "wanted to punch him in his head" and comparing the governor to "Mr. Potter from 'It's a Wonderful Life,' the mean old bastard who screws everybody," according to the paper. "Don't be vindictive and punish innocent people," he ranted. "These people didn't do anything to him. It's like a bank robber taking hostages. And now he's starting to shoot people." For good measure he called Christie "a cruel man," "mean-spirited," and "a rotten prick."
At the Koch gathering, Christie preached an inspirational tone. "Everybody who's here for this weekend is here because they know that the opportunity that was presented to us as Americans is one of the most special gifts that will ever, ever be given," he said. "We want that same thing for our children and for our grandchildren," he added. "And we're here because we know that it is no longer a sure thing if it ever was.…In fact, under this administration, it is at greater risk than it has been in my lifetime."
During the Q&A, one of the questioners wondered what Christie had learned in New Jersey that might be applied to the nation. His answer was direct: "This is not hard. We spend too much. We borrow too much. We tax too much. It is time to turn those three things around."
"Now, pain will be inflicted when we change that," he went on. "People are going to do with less. People who are used to having entitlement at a certain level will not have them at that level anymore. That's the story." Christie cited Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan's "courageous" and "thoughtful plan" to "fix those systems" by replacing Medicare with a voucher program.
Just before the Kochs' guests retired to sip complimentary after-dinner cordials and plot Obama's downfall at the resort's Buffalo Bar, Christie delivered this closer: "Please, if you leave with just one message from me, if only one message sticks: This is a huge moment of crisis and opportunity for our country. All of you are the people who are going to lead us back to American greatness. If you care enough to do it."
From the sound of the ovation, the Koch brothers' patrons cared plenty.
Click here for Part 1 of this series, featuring audio of the seminar's opening remarks by Charles Koch.