Gov. Chris Christie is touting “the New Jersey approach” to getting things done in government, telling a think-tank audience in Washington on Monday that the state could be a national model for moving beyond partisan divides to accomplish significant policy initiatives.
Christie addressed the Brookings Institution, a policy research center in Washington, saying government can work for its citizens if top executives like him are willing to do some heavy lifting. It was a not-so-subtle swipe at partisan federal politics.
Christie, who has been on a national media tour since signing his third state budget June 29, said only 19 percent of New Jersey residents thought the state was moving in the right direction when he was elected in 2009. This year, 53 percent think so. The same poll shows 36 percent believe America is on the right track.
“They are discerning between two different approaches to government — the federal approach and the New Jersey approach,” Christie said.
Democrats, of course, disagreed.
“His rhetoric about bipartisanship is more hypocrisy than truth,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen. “It was Democrats who forced him to back down from giving the wealthy another tax break.”
Assembly Democratic Leader Lou Greenwald said Christie is auditioning for a speaking role at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., while the state’s unemployment remains a stubborn 9.2 percent, above the national rate of 8.2 percent, and property taxes are averaging $7,519, 20 percent higher than when Christie took office.
In a 45-minute address followed by questions, Christie highlighted the cap on property-tax growth he achieved in 2010, pension and health benefits concessions he exacted from public workers last year, and teacher-tenure reforms passed this year as proof that partisanship doesn’t have to result in government gridlock. He said he can be at an impasse with Democrats over some issues while finding common ground on others.
“It would not have happened if the executive didn’t lead first,” Christie said of the government-worker givebacks, approved by the Democrat-controlled Legislature after a fraction of Democrats voted with Republicans to muscle it through at Christie’s behest. “Legislatures don’t lead; executives lead and legislatures can be persuaded if you’re willing to sit down at the table.”
Christie said voters will support leaders who are candid and aren’t afraid to take risks.
Christie, 49, has been unable to claim victory on this year’s signature initiative: a 10 percent income-tax cut.
He said he and the Democratic leader in the Senate had an agreement to apply the tax cut to property taxes rather than income taxes and cap income eligibility at $400,000, but the handshake deal fell apart when rank-and-file Democrats balked.
“We had an agreement until normal politics set back in,” Christie said. “They decided it was more important for me not to be able to go to the Republican National Convention in Tampa and say that I got a tax cut for the people of our state than it was to actually give the people of our state a tax cut.”
He promised a continuing fight with Democrats over the cut.
Democrats set aside $183 million in the budget to fund the cut and said they’ll pass accompanying legislation to release the money in January — but only if the state is hitting Christie’s optimistic revenue targets. Christie wants Democrats to commit to funding the first installment of the phased-in cut now.
Meanwhile, Christie conditionally vetoed an income-tax surcharge on millionaires that would have raised income taxes on the wealthy by nearly 2 percent and used the $800 million in additional revenue to restore property-tax rebates to low-income earners, the elderly and disabled.
“New Jerseyans are suffering under Gov. Christie’s policies, yet he seems more interested in auditioning for another job,” said Greenwald, D-Burlington, Camden. “The governor’s attention needs to be on middle-class tax relief and fixing the policies that have hurt New Jersey’s middle class, not on his personal ambitions.”
Christie rejected Republican overtures to run for president and has said he doesn’t expect Mitt Romney, the party’s presumptive nominee, to pick him as a running mate. Christie has not declared whether he’ll run for re-election in New Jersey in 2013 but has repeatedly said he loves the job of being governor.