In his annual State of the State address Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie said that, over the past year, New Jersey’s economic recovery “went from strong to stronger.”“We achieved the best private sector job growth in New Jersey in 15 years,” Christie said of 2015. “After creating no jobs for eight years, we’ve created 224,000 new jobs in the last six years. Our unemployment rate has fallen to 5.3 percent, the lowest it’s been since 2008. Home sales continued to recover in 2015, rising by nearly 14 percent over 2014, and the number of construction permits issued is 10 percent higher than 2014, now at its highest level of construction permits since 2006. Last year, foreclosures fell by 20 percent, with declines in every one of the 21 counties of this state.”
“On our watch, New Jersey has pulled back from the economic brink,” Christie added.
Christie touted his administration’s dedication to fiscal responsibility, claiming that property tax hikes have been consistently curbed under the implemented 2 percent cap after years of over-the-top increases. Discretionary spending for the upcoming fiscal year, added Christie, is “$2.3 billion below 2008 levels.”
While Christie spent a considerable amount of the speech addressing social issues he has previously championed, such as access to mental health services and drug treatment reform, he did call for an end to the state’s estate tax, which he said “penalizes the next generation and harms the long-term economic future of our state.”
“We need to fix this now,” Christie said. “We need to stop punishing the next generation and hurting middle-class families.”
A repeal or phase-out of the estate tax has recently been floated as a possible compromise measure to balance a proposed gas tax increase to help replenish the state’s depleted Transportation Trust Fund, which Christie did not reference at all during his speech.
Christie did, however, make note of the state’s ongoing pension crisis and warned Democrats about the negative fiscal consequences of their current quest to mandate future payments through a constitutional amendment.
Even if the Legislature were to pass a so-called “millionaires’ tax” to help fund the pension payments, it would only constitute a fraction of what would be needed, Christie said.
“We must tell New Jersey the truth,” Christie said. “This is the road to ruin. Our nonpartisan commission put forward an alternative that would avoid this calamity for our state and this injustice for our taxpayers. Stop this before it’s too late. We cannot deny funding for health care, education, criminal justice, the poor, our environment, our children and our infrastructure to pander to pensioners. We cannot soak every taxpayer for the benefit of the privileged few.
“I will lead Republicans and Independents to say no to this outrage. Will legislative Democrats join us? And if you won’t, how will you explain this to our fellow citizens? You can count on the fact that I will, because I just did.”
Still, Christie listed several tax, educational and criminal justice reforms as examples of his ability to compromise and work with Democrats on key issues in the best interests of New Jersey residents.
“Instead of slick soundbites, we’ve governed through hard conversations,” Christie said. “I’ve certainly had plenty of them with many of you in this room and I intend to have more today. Those conversations haven’t always won me friends, but it was never about that. The only thing I’ve ever tried to win is a better deal for all the people of New Jersey.”
The Republican presidential candidate said that his leadership is a contrast to what many Americans will hear Tuesday night when President Barack Obama delivers his annual State of the Union address in Washington, D.C.
“I believe our best days lie ahead,” Christie said. “But if we want to win the future, then we need to face it boldly. We can’t shirk from the difficult decisions and hard conversations we need to have. We can’t choose to only pass the easy reforms or the ones that the media or the special interests like.”
Despite Christie’s claims and evidence that his campaign message is gaining steam in the early primary voting state of New Hampshire, Tuesday’s address comes as critiques of absenteeism and overall job performance have led to record low approval ratings for him back home.
According to a new Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind Poll released Tuesday, just 31 percent of New Jersey voters approve of the job Christie is doing.
Christie will head back to New Hampshire on Wednesday for several campaign events before heading to South Carolina on Thursday for the next Republican presidential primary debate.