EDISON — Gov. Chris Christie, in a speech with undisguised campaign overtones, said Wednesday that he’s righted a foundering state by shrinking government, enacting business tax breaks and trimming regulatory red tape.
As the keynote speaker at an event for commercial real estate developers in Edison, Middlesex County, Christie spoke for 40 minutes about a state he described as having been at the financial brink when he took office in 2010 but having rebounded during his first term because of 5,200 fewer state government jobs, $2.3 billion in business tax reductions and one-third fewer rules and regulations within the Department of Environmental Protection.
“We’re seeing progress in New Jersey in every area that matters to business — right-sizing government, tax reductions, regulatory reform and business incentives to help you grow your businesses,” Christie said.
The governor, who is seeking re-election, told the crowd he’s made good on a core promise of his first gubernatorial campaign: to be a strong leader. He was on stage less than two minutes before disparaging the record of his predecessor, Gov. Jon S. Corzine, and Corzine’s DEP chief, Lisa Jackson, who went on to lead the federal Environmental Protection Agency under President Barack Obama.
“We had a situation where things in our state had ground to a halt, and in fact in many ways were moving backward,” Christie said. “We had a regulatory system which was running amok. A DEP which was the most business-unfriendly environmental protection department in America. Of course, the person who ran that department then went to make the EPA the most business-unfriendly organization in America.”
The philosophical differences between Democrats such as Corzine and Republicans such as Christie emerged again later in the speech, as Christie outlined what he sees as a clear choice for voters in November. His likely challenger, state Sen. Barbara Buono, is a progressive Democrat who was Senate Budget Committee chairwoman during Corzine’s term.
“Let there be no confusion about the philosophies of the two parties as we enter this election year,” Christie said. “Republicans think you are overtaxed and believe income taxes are too high in New Jersey and need to be reduced. Democrats believe you are undertaxed. They want to raise income taxes. They have tried to do it three years in a row.”
Buono is among the Democrats who support restoring the surcharge on the highest-earning residents and using the money to provide tax relief to middle- and working-class residents.
She also maintains Christie has done little to create jobs during a term marked by an unemployment rate that consistently has been above the national average and hasn’t moved below 9 percent on his watch.
Christie didn’t mention the unemployment rate but said the past two years were the state’s best in private-sector job growth since 1999. He derisively referred to the 10-year period ending in 1999 as “the jobless decade.”