“Sandy may have stalled New Jersey’s economy, but there is plenty of evidence that New Jerseyans have not let it stop our turnaround,” Christie, 50, said in his State of the State speech to the Democratic-controlled legislature.
Until Sandy struck on Oct. 29, Christie spent much of his first term pushing to overhaul public education, pensions and benefits, and arguing with Democrats over tax cuts and revenue projections. The superstorm killed 38 in the state, left 2.7 million residents without power, crippled mass transit and leveled beach towns and boardwalks.
Sandy cost New Jersey more than 8,000 jobs in November, mostly in leisure and hospitality, Christie said. Still, companies are hiring, income-tax receipts were exceeding the administration’s projections prior to Sandy, and there has been an increase in new home sales, consumer spending and industrial production, he said.
“The state is stronger today than it has been in years,” Christie said in the 40-minute speech. “We are recovering and growing. We are not declining and descending.”
Christie’s approval rating jumped to 77 percent after Sandy, from 56 percent before, according to Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind poll. In a survey released Jan. 7, his approval was at 73 percent, including 62 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of independents.
The governor praised President Barack Obama’s response to Sandy ahead of Election Day, angering some Republicans who blamed him for the Democratic incumbent’s win over Mitt Romney. Last week, he attacked fellow Republicans in Congress for delaying a vote in the House of Representatives on disaster aid.
Christie became a national Republican figure with his calls for smaller government and lower taxes. He declined suggestions in October 2011 that he run for president in 2012, saying he couldn’t abandon his commitment to help New Jersey recover from the recession.
The governor used his 2012 State of the State speech to proclaim that an economic “Jersey comeback” had begun, and to call for an income-tax cut. In a Jan. 4 interview, he said the state’s recovery hasn’t petered out, though Sandy slowed it.
“Sandy may have damaged our homes and our infrastructure, but it did not destroy our spirit,” the governor said.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, the state’s highest- ranking Democrat, said yesterday that Christie “prayed and got lucky” that Sandy hit, because it deflected attention from his lack of an economic plan. Sweeney, who is considering a run for governor, quickly apologized for the remark.
Speaking to reporters in his office after the speech, Sweeney criticized Christie for not unveiling policy initiatives or laying out his plans for both the economy and rebuilding.
“This was a speech with no details and no focus,” Sweeney told reporters in his office after Christie had concluded his remarks. “A pat on the back isn’t enough.”
New Jersey’s unemployment rate rose in November to 9.6 percent -- the nation’s fourth-highest -- from 9 percent in January, as the U.S. level fell to 7.7 percent from 8.3 percent.
Though the state has added about 75,000 nongovernment jobs since Christie took office, the number of positions declined for five consecutive months through November, and is still down more than 173,000 from January 2008, when the past recession began, state Labor Department data show.
November revenue missed Christie’s targets by 11 percent after Sandy kept shoppers and Atlantic City gamblers at home. Receipts for the fiscal year through November were 0.2 percent higher than the same period in fiscal 2012. The governor had targeted a 7.2 percent annual increase, second only to a 7.7 percent jump projected by California Governor Jerry Brown, according to an analysis by the New Jersey treasurer’s office.
The state had its credit outlook revised to negative from stable in September by Standard & Poor’s, which said Christie’s budget targets were optimistic. S&P’s view indicates a rating reduction may follow. Democrats have also challenged the governor’s projections, and have blocked his tax cut until they’re persuaded that collections will meet targets.
In statements ahead of the governor’s speech, Christie’s office highlighted his 2012 accomplishments, including a teacher-tenure overhaul, restructuring of the state’s higher- education system and expansion of a program to divert nonviolent drug offenders from prison.
An overhaul of retiree benefits signed by Christie will save $120 billion over three decades, according to his office. He also won a 2 percent cap on annual property-tax increases and approved more than $2 billion of business tax breaks.
Christie’s speech came seven weeks before he presents his spending plan for fiscal 2014. David Rosen, the legislature’s chief fiscal analyst, said on Jan. 3 that revenue is trailing the $31.7 billion 2013 budget by $700 million, and that figure could rise to as much as $2 billion if revenue remains little changed through June 30. Christie, who has estimated $36.9 billion in storm damages, said last month that mid-year spending cuts may be needed.
“Despite the challenges that Sandy presents for our economy, I will not let New Jersey go back to our old ways of wasteful spending and rising taxes,” the governor said.
Christie, who hasn’t ruled out a 2016 presidential bid, scolded Speaker John Boehner, the Ohio Republican who leads the U.S. House, for his decision to delay a Jan. 1 vote on a $60 billion Sandy aid package, saying it set back the state’s recovery by months. After the rebuke, Boehner allowed a vote on $9.7 billion of the aid on Jan. 4 and scheduled a Jan. 15 vote for the remainder.
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