FAIR LAWN, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) – 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.

As WCBS 880’s Levon Putney reported, Christie said the current 7 percent sales tax would have to increase to 10 percent and income taxes on anyone working in New Jersey would have to go up 29 percent.

“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, 1010 WINS Rebecca Granet reported.

“We’ve already said no to the draft transition plan. I’ve said to the Human Services Department you need to go back, work with the community and work with the federal government to try to get more flexibility,” he said.

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.”

As CBS2’s Meg Baker reported, Christie has expressed “grave concerns” about common core education in the past, but is now asking parents to give PARCC a chance.

“I understand that everyone is up in arms about testing, but now we have to test sometime, we have to figure out if your kids are learning or not,” he said.

Susan McGowan is concerned about the amount of class time taken away to prepare for the test.

“Were we ready to assess that, if schools haven’t really had enough time potentially to implement the common core aligned curriculum?” McGowan said.

“I’m refusing the test because first of all, we don’t know what the common core standards of the test is based upon, there’s never been a comparison with NJ state standards,” Kim Barron said.

Christie repeatedly said he will not make a decision on PARCC until he sees the results of the test. Those scores will not be in until the following school year.

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.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

 

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