by Tom Johnson
in NJ Spotlight on Wednesday, January 13, 2016
Gov. Chris Christie talked about finding hard solutions to the state’s problems, but his annual message to the Legislature yesterday stopped well short of saying what needs to be done about some of New Jersey’s most intractable issues.
Nothing on how to pay for a crumbling transportation infrastructure or fix a deficit-ridden pension system. Nothing about what can be done to rein in property taxes, which increased in 2015 at the fastest rate in four years, according to a report in the Asbury Park Press this past weekend.
In his 50-minute speech, however, the governor vowed to press ahead, working with legislative leaders as he has done in the past to solve problems, and will do so again.
“Instead of going for the quick fixes or the easy solutions, we’ve gone for hard solutions and a long-term revolution in the way we run our state,’’ Christie said. “It’s the difference between talking a big game and attacking problems head-on and being responsible for achieving solutions.’’
That didn’t stop the Republican presidential hopeful from castigating Democratic legislators for passing Monday a constitutional amendment to put to voters on guaranteeing pension payments, a course Christie said would jeopardize funding for all other types of state spending.
Other than noting his administration’s contributions to the state pension fund, the governor did not lay out any plan for stabilizing the fund with bipartisan support.
Christie, who spent less than half of his time last year in New Jersey while campaigning for the GOP presidential nomination, criticized both Congress and the White House during his speech. Critics said he’d have done better talking on New Jersey issues, especially citing his failure to do anything about transportation funding.
“There is so much more that we needed to talk about,’’ said Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson). “He needs to focus on New Jersey.’’
Assemblyman Budget Committee Chair Gary Schaer (D-Passaic) said there also was no talk about a plan to pay down New Jersey’s rising debt or address a series of nine credit-rating downgrades the state has been hit with during Christie’s tenure.
“There is an economic crisis going on right now that is simply not being spoken about by this administration,’’ Schaer said.
Christie also steered clear of mentioning the status of Hurricane Sandy restoration efforts, a staple of past messages since the storm wreaked havoc in New Jersey. Charles Wowkanech, president of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, noted some Sandy victims are making do in temporary housing more than three years after the storm destroyed their homes and uprooted their lives.
But others praised the speech, especially the governor’s renewing his call for the repeal of the estate tax. The New Jersey Chamber of Commerce said in a statement that eliminating the tax “will greatly enhance New Jersey’s competitive position and will benefit the majority of business.’’
Christie’s pledge to enhance charter school growth in New Jersey also won praise from the New Jersey Campaign for Achievement Now.
“Ensuring that students across the state have access to high-quality schools is our top priority, and we applaud Gov. Christie’s announcement to expand access to high-quality charters,’’ said Janellen Duffy, executive director of JerseyCAN.