In an emotional 2013 State of the State address, Gov. Chris Christie touched heavily on the effects of Hurricane Sandy and the recovery, as well as highlights from his first three years in office.
But there was not much detail on upcoming state budget problems and revenue shortfalls, and barely one mention of casinos, gambling or Atlantic City.
New Jersey Democrats said Christie used Sandy to ignore key issues facing the state, something state Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, D-Essex, Passaic, called “disappointing.”
“Sandy was the worst storm to strike New Jersey in our history,” the Republican governor told a joint session of the Legislature at the Statehouse in Trenton, citing numbers such as the 346,000 homes damaged or destroyed, nearly 7 million people and 1,000 schools with no power, and 116,000 New Jerseyans evacuated or displaced.
“(And) 41,000 families are still displaced from their homes today,” he said. “Sandy may have damaged our homes and our infrastructure, but it did not destroy our spirit. ... Make no mistake about it. We will be back, stronger than ever.”
Christie listed the actions the state had taken in response, including:
- The creation of a Cabinet-level position to coordinate recovery efforts
- Securing $20 million from the Federal Highway Administration for emergency repair of roads, bridges and tunnels
- Overseeing the removal of more than 2.5 million cubic yards of debris
- Securing temporary rental assistance for 41,000 families
- Working with the Small Business Administration to secure nearly $189 million in loans for homeowners and small businesses, as well as providing lines of credit for businesses awaiting insurance reimbursement, job training grants and benefits for displaced workers
Christie told the stories of several guests in the legislative chamber Tuesday, from the first aid chief of Moonachie, Bergen County, to Brick Township residents who rescued neighbors by boat. The most personal was the story of a Port Monmouth girl who had told Christie she lost her home.
“So I told Ginjer, ‘You haven’t lost your home, you’ve just lost a house,’” he said. “A house we can replace, your home is with your mom and dad.’ I hugged her and told her not to cry — that the adults are in charge now and there was nothing to be afraid of anymore.”
Although Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties all went unmentioned, Christie did praise the state’s new fertilizer restrictions as furthering his commitment to the Barnegat Bay in Ocean County with “the toughest fertilizer law in America.”
He also had strong words for those in Congress who were slow to vote on — or who outright oppose — Sandy relief.
“You see, some things are above politics,” Christie said. “Sandy was and is one of those things. These folks stand for the truth of that statement.”
He called for “quick congressional action on a full, clean Sandy aid bill — now, next week — and for enactment by the president. We have waited 72 days, seven times longer than victims of Hurricane Katrina waited. One thing I hope everyone now clearly understands: New Jersey, both Republicans and Democrats, will never stand silent when our citizens are being short-changed.”
He also cited New Jersey’s support of residents of other states, including Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Iowa, Vermont, California and Missouri, “and now I trust that they will stand with us.”
Much of the rest of the speech was devoted to improvements in the state economy since taking office in 2010, with Christie citing numbers showing that personal income set a record high for seven quarters in a row and that sales of new homes, consumer spending and industrial production were all up.
While praising the addition of nearly 75,000 private-sector jobs since taking office, Christie also positively cited the cutting of 20,000 public-sector jobs.
“In 2012, we had fewer state government employees than at any time since Gov. Whitman left office in January 2001,” he said. “We promised to reduce the size of government, and we have delivered. We have held the line on taxes. We have also held the line on spending. We have made New Jersey a more attractive place in which to grow a business, to grow jobs, to raise a family.”
Christie also cited education issues as an important part of his agenda, citing tenure changes, establishing performance-based pay in Newark, implementing interdistrict school choice, growing the number of charter schools to 86 and investing $8.9 billion in state aid, the highest amount ever, for education in 2012.
As for the casino industry, there was just one reference to “visitors who didn’t come to our casinos” as losses the state will not get back. Internet and sports gambling were not mentioned.
While Christie cited New Jersey as an example of bipartisanship cooperation compared with Washington, the response from Democrats was mixed.
“I am very disappointed the governor did not touch upon other issues facing the residents of this state,” said Oliver, citing crime in the state’s larger cities and the relative low wages of many of the new jobs being created.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, the Democratic State Committee chairman, applauded the governor for his leadership during Sandy, but said he hopes the governor’s experience with the storm “taught him that it is those in New Jersey who are struggling and not the well-off who need his attention and leadership.”
Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, D-Burlington, Camden, had a similar reaction.
“The reason the governor’s response to Hurricane Sandy was well-received is because he put the divisive politics of the past aside and worked together on a bipartisan basis to help our state respond to the storm,” Greenwald said.
State Sen. Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, the only prominent Democrat who has announced that she’s running for governor, said Christie was right to emphasize the state’s recovery from the superstorm, but not at the expense of the state’s sputtering economy.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who on Monday said Christie “got lucky” because the storm gave him cover for what Sweeney said were Christie’s failed economic policies, apologized again for the remark Tuesday. But Sweeney also said he was not backing down from the point that the governor has not done enough to reduce the unemployment, stem the housing foreclosure rate or stabilize property taxes.
“His plan for the economy was a hurricane,” said Sweeney, a potential Christie challenger in November. “If there wasn’t a hurricane, we had no plan.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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