Governor Chris Christie told a group of business leaders that Democrats in the Legislature may jeopardize New Jersey’s economic recovery by putting social issues ahead of job creation and tax cuts.
Debating same-sex marriage and other concerns may hinder progress on improving New Jersey’s economy, the first-term Republican said last night in a 25-minute speech to the state Chamber of Commerce during its annual trip to Washington.
Making gay marriage legal in New Jersey dominated legislative debate in Trenton in the past week. While Christie proposed a ballot question on the issue, and said he would abide by the results if it went to voters in November, he threatened to veto Democrats’ bill to permit the practice.
“They want to play around with social issues to try and make people look bad,” said Christie, 49. “Here’s what the public is going to care about: Are they working? Are they working in a job that pays well and provides their family with health insurance?”
Christie’s remarks echoed his Jan. 17 State of the State speech to the Legislature and a subsequent series of public meetings in which he pressed his case for hastening what he calls “the Jersey comeback” by cutting taxes. The Washington-based Tax Foundation this week ranked New Jersey last among U.S. states in terms of business climate.
Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, a Cherry Hill Democrat, said his party is weighing “a couple of ideas” to lower pressure from New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes. He declined to give specifics after Christie’s speech, while saying any relief would be both immediate and long-term.
“These were very defensive comments by the governor,” he said in an interview. “He’s talking about philosophical debates because quite honestly his eye is on a different prize than just governing New Jersey.”
New Jersey’s homeowners paid an average property-tax bill of $7,576 in 2010, according to the most recent information released by the state Community Affairs Department.
Greenwald and Democrats have said property taxes are the most serious tax-related issue for the middle class. He said Christie is “dead wrong” to say people don’t care about same-sex marriage. Democrats control both legislative chambers.
Christie took office in 2010 pledging to cut taxes as the state’s economic conditions improved. He said his proposed reduction would spur the state’s economy, which he added should be the top issue in Trenton.
“Do they care about the stuff we’ve been talking about for the past week?” Christie said, referring to state residents. “What they care about is whether their husband or wife will have a job, will they have money to put food on the table?”
New Jersey’s unemployment rate fell to 9 percent in December, the lowest since May 2009, according to the state Labor Department. It is above the national rate of 8.5 percent, and double the state level of December 2007.
The governor has declined to say how he’d make up for the revenue if taxes are cut. Democrats have said a 10 percent rollback may mean as much as a $1.1 billion decline in state receipts.
“People care about civil rights, and they also care about the middle-class property tax relief and job creation plans this governor vetoed as he zealously protects and advocates for tax cuts for the rich,” Tom Hester, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, said last night. “His priorities are so out of step with working class New Jersey.”
Oliver, a Democrat from East Orange, has said that an analysis by her office showed a family with a $50,000 annual income would pay $80 less in taxes under Christie’s plan, while someone earning $1 million would save $7,200.