- Governor Christie Delivers 2016 State of the State Address
- The Democratic Response
Governor Christie Delivers 2016 State of the State Address
Speaking to legislators, the residents of New Jersey and voters in the presidential primary states through the televised broadcast, Governor Christie delivered his 2016 State of the State Address, touting his Administration’s accomplishments, admonishing Senate and Assembly Democrats for passing a ballot question placing public worker pension payments over other critical state issues and announcing a few new initiatives.
The Governor noted, that under his Administration, the State has the best private sector job creation in 15 years, has a 5.3% unemployment rate and 10,000 fewer state employees since the day he took office. He highlighted that he has signed 6 balanced budgets with no new tax increases and that discretionary spending for fiscal year 2016 is $2.3 billion below 2008 levels. Teacher tenure reform, expansion of charter of schools, and the creation of renaissance schools were listed as educational accomplishments during his governorship.
Though the Governor’s speech emphasized his ability to work across the aisle on major issues, he dedicated a large portion of the address on the “dangers” of the pension ballot question passed by the Legislature on Monday, and put a spotlight on the NJEA’s $30 million in political contributions to Legislative Democrats and affiliated PACs.
Pointing out that funding for critical programs such as funding for hospitals, building roads and bridges, providing aid to the State’s colleges and universities, paying for homeland security, etc., are not constitutionally dedicated, the Governor stated that the ballot question turns 8.1 million New Jerseyans into “second class citizens” while “Public pensioners would be a special class of citizens whose retirement is protected above all other public concerns.”
The Governor noted that it would take $3 billion to pay for the amendment, requiring a millionaire’s tax increase and either raising the sales tax from 7% to 10% or the raising the state income tax by 23 percent. He urged its defeat.
Stating that charter schools have achieved early successes despite a tough regulatory environment, the Governor announced that his administration would prioritize several relief measures, including greater flexibility in the teacher certification process for charters, making it easier for charter schools to find facilities and encouraging the development of more charter schools to serve the most at-risk youth, including students with autism or development delays.
Underscoring that only New Jersey and Maryland have both an estate tax and inheritance tax, making it less competitive, the Governor called on the Legislature to abolish the former.
On the issues of drug treatment and rehabilitation, the Governor announced that the Administration is launching a treatment intervention pilot program using “Recovery Coaches” in hard-hit counties for people recovering from drug overdoses. He also called for re-opening Mid-State Prison as a fully dedicated, certified drug abuse treatment facility for New Jersey prison inmates and announced a $100 million increase to access to care for mental health and substance use.
The Democratic Response
Legislative Democrats criticized the Governor’s fiscal record, his statements on pension payments for public employees, his aid to schools, his travel out of state and what the speech didn’t address.
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto pointed out that the State still has a $10.2 billion structure deficit, that 8 out of 10 school districts are receiving less aid today than they did in the year previous to the Governor assuming office and that the speech contained no plan to replenish the State’s Transportation Trust Fund, which will run out of money by end of its 5-year program in June.
Senate President Steve Sweeney joked that it was nice to see the Governor on Tuesday, highlighting that he has not been in the State much lately and that there are critical transportation issues that need to be addressed, including the renewal of the TTF and the need to put “Bergen” in the Hudson-Bergen light rail. He also called for completing the reforms of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
On the issue of the pension payment, the Senate President stated that while the courts ruled the Administration didn’t need to make the payment now, it did rule that the Governor is required to make a payment and that a lack of action could cost the State $9 billion by 2026.