It’s been a consistent refrain from Gov. Chris Christie’s office following Hurricane Sandy’s landing on New Jersey’s shores. Make no mistake about it, he told the assembled crowd of lawmakers at the Statehouse Tuesday afternoon, New Jersey will be back.
As expected, much of Christie’s State of the State address focused on Sandy’s impact on New Jersey and the ongoing effort to restore the areas most devastated by the storm as quickly as possible.
During the approximately 45-minute speech—one marked by several standing ovations for both Christie and for residents who performed heroically during and after Sandy—the governor appealed for bipartisanship in politics at both the state and national levels as New Jersey works toward restoration.
Recalling advice delivered during a tour of Port Monmouth to a 9-year-old storm victim named Ginjer that the “adults are in charge now,” Christie lauded rebuilding efforts thus far and called for the effort to continue.
"The people of New Jersey have come together as never before,” he said in his speech. “Across party lines. Across ideological lines. Across ages, races and backgrounds. From all parts of our state. Even from out of state. Everyone has come together.”
In all, Christie’s office estimates Sandy caused nearly $37 billion in property damage. The stormed knocked out power to 7 million residents, damaged or destroyed 346,000 homes and has left tens of thousands of residents displaced.
Backing off his harsh criticism of the GOP and U.S House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, whose “toxic politics” the governor blamed for delaying aid to Sandy victims, Christie instead urged Congress to follow up on its approval of a preliminary $9 billion flood insurance package by passing the remainder of the aid at a scheduled Jan. 15 vote.
“You see,” he said, “some things are above politics. Sandy was and is one of those things.”
Christie added: “We now look forward to what we hope will be quick Congressional action on a full, clean Sandy aid bill—now, next week—and to enactment by the president. We have waited 72 days, seven times longer than victims of Hurricane Katrina waited. One thing I hope everyone now clearly understands—New Jersey, both Republicans and Democrats, will never stand silent when our citizens are being shortchanged.”
‘We are working together’
Much of Christie’s speech carried a tone of optimism. The governor, delivering his third State of the State, dwelled little on the politics that have dominated his tenure thus far, instead offering quickly delivered recaps of policies he claims have kept property taxes low, reformed the pension system, cut the government workforce and added jobs to the private sector.
Instead of discussing opposition from Senate and Assembly Democrats, Christie instead lauded a method of government that has gotten things done, now and even prior to Sandy.
“We are working together, not just as a people in digging out from Sandy and rebuilding our economy,” he said in his speech. “Here in Trenton, in this chamber, we have had our fights. We have stuck to our principles. But we have established a governing model for the nation that shows that, even with heartfelt beliefs, bipartisan compromise is possible. Achievement is the result. And progress is the payoff.”
The economy has been a top priority and will continue to be in the coming year, Christie said. Sandy and lingering effects of the national economic recession have been stumbling blocks toward New Jersey’s complete economic recovery, Christie noted, though new data shows that homes sales, consumer spending and industrial production all are up.
Ultimately, the state’s economy benefits when more, better paying jobs are created, Christie said.
“Since I took this office, participation in New Jersey’s labor force is higher than the nation as a whole and the number of people employed has grown,” Christie’s speech read. “That means that more people have the confidence to be out looking for jobs, and more people actually have jobs.”
New Jersey does, however, have an unemployment rate that outpaces the national average.
Democrats say some Christie policies hurt
Though Christie refrained from too much finger pointing during Tuesday’s speech, New Jersey Democrats, in their official response, did object to some of the governor’s claims. Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34) said Christie has done a fine job responding to the needs of counties devastated by Hurricane Sandy. Unfortunately, she said, he’s failed to address the needs of the rest of the state, now, and even before Sandy.
The foreclosure rate on residential properties in New Jersey is up, Oliver said. And while municipalities are unable to adequately fund their police forces because of, presumably, the governor’s mandatory 2-percent tax cap, crime is up in many areas already plagued with high crime rates.
Christie’s policies also came under fire from regular political rival state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), who on Monday said that the governor’s prayers were answered when Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey; Sweeney quickly apologized for his remarks. Sweeney’s message was clear, however. He believes Sandy provided a convenient distraction for Christie’s economic policies, which have failed to jump-start New Jersey.
With Christie advocating for an end to partisan politics in his address, his colleagues in the Statehouse were more than willing to pick up the slack. State Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R-13), representing towns in Monmouth County, attacked the governor’s Democratic critics who’ve challenged his positive economic interpretation.
“For anyone to say that 75,000 private sector jobs created, $120 billion saved taxpayers by pension and benefits reform, and the first meaningful limits on property taxes isn’t a record worth cheering is absurd,” Kyrillos said in a statement. “I encourage the governor’s critics to stop with the nasty, partisan posturing, leave the campaigning for the fall, and work with the governor to continue the progress.”
With his plans to seek re-election for a second term as New Jersey’s governor, Christie called for Trenton to work together toward a positive future. During the next several years the state will be tasked with rebuilding from Sandy, restoring New Jersey’s economy to growth and prosperity, and reclaiming the promise of a positive New Jersey for future generations, he said.
That requires assistance from both Republicans and Democrats.
“Let’s put aside destructive politics in an election year. Let’s put aside accusations and false charges for purely political advantage. Let’s work together to honor the memories of those lost in Sandy. Let’s put the needs of our most victimized citizens ahead of the partisan politics of the day,” he said. “Let’s demonstrate once again the resilience of New Jersey’s spirit. And let us continue what we have started.”