Local officials had strong reactions to President Barack Obama's state of the union address Tuesday, with Democrats praising many of his proposals and Republicans questioning his priorities.

They spoke late Tuesday on his plans for the economy, raising taxes on the top 1 percent of earners, education, environment, developing renewable energy, ending war in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, national security, gun control and other topics

State Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, said he felt the president demonstrated a strong sense of urgency during the speech.

“Conventional wisdom is when you are in your second term you have a year or two to get things done before you become a lame duck,” he said.

One of the proposals that Whelan strongly agreed with is immigration reform, including creating a path to citizenship for people who may have come to America illegally. Whelan said children who came over at a young age and grow up in America should not be denied a chance to attend college or other opportunities as they grow older, he said.

The senator said he supports the president’s plan to tie manufacturing to alternative energy development, which he has advocated as a member of the state Legislature.

Whelan also noted the end of Obama’s speech on gun control was very powerful, particularly his request to Congress to “give a vote” for the benefit of victims of recent shootings.

Sate Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, agreed with the president that the highest paid Americans should pay their fair share to help the middle and lower classes.

But Van Drew said that sometimes government can be a hindrance to helping small and moderate sized businesses and the government must be mindful not to create too many obstacles for them.

Van Drew said immigration reform is “essential” and a bipartisan solution can be obtained to secure borders and also assist people already living in this country to obtain citizenship if they are willing to stay here and be productive residents and pay taxes.

The senator also said it’s a critical time for not only the president but all leaders in Congress to work together to solve the country’s problems and reassure citizens of their nation’s future.

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., issued a statement in support of Obama’s proposals on climate change, reducing nuclear weapons and counter-terrorism.

The senator also said he shared the president’s approach to gun control, job creation and immigration reform.

“Tonight, the president put words to the music we heard in his inaugural address, and laid out an agenda that continues the progress we’ve made toward robust economic recovery at home and strengthening America’s leadership role abroad,” he said.

But some local Republicans were critical of elements of the State of the Union address.

Atlantic County Sheriff Frank X. Balles, who is running for the state senate’s 2nd District seat against Whelan, said Obama did not detail specific ways to reduce spending.

He said the president’s plan to increase the minimum wage to $9 an hour and tie it to a region’s cost of living could hurt small businesses and deny high school and college students the ability to have real work experience at a young age.

Balles said he supports immigration reform that would have people in the country “on the tax rolls and paying taxes like every American does.”

Obama discussed having the top salary earners paying more taxes to help the middle and lower classes, but Balles said he thinks everyone should pay the same percentage of taxes on their income.

U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, was unavailable for an interview but released a statement criticizing the president’s plans on economic growth as “lip service,” adding that he does not have his priorities in the right place.

“Regrettably, South Jersey has seen this movie before,” he said. “Until the president recognizes and responds to what really weighs on the minds of individuals and families across the country — unacceptably high unemployment, rising gas prices, burdensome debt passed to our children and grandchildren — the American people can only expect more of the same.”

LoBiondo did say he was encouraged that more troops will return from Afghanistan and Congress must supply them with essential readjustment services.

LoBiondo also said the president must work with Congress.

“Collaboration and cooperation through the legislative process is a central pillar of our Constitution, yet viewed as an obstacle to be circumvented by the Obama administration,” he said. “It should not and does not have to be this way.”

U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan, R-3rd, said Obama missed an opportunity to unify Americans around the country’s fiscal issues.

“Unfortunately, the president continued to focus on increasing taxes and spending while ignoring the nation’s debt and deficit crisis,” he said in a statement. “Now is the time to focus on our debt and deficit and get the federal government’s spending problem under control, which is the only way to grow our struggling economy.”

Contact Joel Landau:

609-272-7215, jlandau@pressofac.com

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