UPDATED: Christie Calls for Tax Cuts, Education Reform
New Jersey governor discussed his priorities in annual State of the State address.
Governor Christie called for a 10 percent cut in state income taxes and mapped out a comprehensive education and pension reform plan in his second annual State of the State Address Tuesday.
Making several references to a "New Jersey Comeback," the Republican governor claimed the state has turned a corner from the "dark days of 2010" and touted some of his accomplishments: capping property tax increases, lowering the unemployment rate and scaling back benefits for public workers.
"I will not permit anyone to re-impose the tax raising, overspending, irresponsible ways of our past which led to our dark decade of joblessness in New Jersey," Christie told the senate and assembly members gathered in the Statehouse.
"Stand strong with me and I will stand up for you. We are going in the right direction," he said.
Christie began his 40-minute address with a moment of silence for Assemblyman Alex DeCroce, whose untimely death last week prompted the governor to postpone the State of the State in order to mourn his longtime friend and mentor.
In the coming year, Christie said he would fulfill a promise he made in 2009, that "every New Jerseyan" regardless of income, will see a cut in taxes. The governor said the state is in competition with other countries and other states to bring jobs to its residents.
The tax cuts would enable New Jersey to draw a contrast with neighboring states that have raised income tax rates in recent years.
"In this environment, the best way to compete is to show a different direction. Let others choose tax increases. We choose responsible tax cuts to give our overburdened citizens real relief and to help New Jersey grow," he said.
Christie also called for statewide reform of the education system, including tying objective measurements to tenure, allowing districts to remove its least effective teachers ahead of more junior staff members in the event of layoffs, and giving higher salaries to teachers in failing districts.
He also called for reforming the state's process for authorizing new charter schools and establishing tax credits for low-income students in the state's worst-performing schools.
"These are not radical reforms; they are common sense. They are not rash; they are long overdue. And they are not luxuries which can afford to languish for another six months or another year; they are essential for New Jersey’s success," he said.
The governor credited the legislature with helping the administration reach its goals for the state, peppering the phrase "Jersey strong" throughout his speech.
"Our economy suffers while Washington politicians – in both parties – fiddle. America’s position of strength and leadership around the world deteriorates while our leaders bicker and blame. Over the last two years New Jersey did the exact opposite. We achieved results because we did it together," Christie said.
Among the steps he proposed to improve the quality of life in New Jersey, Christie said reclaiming the state's inner cities was key. He showcased a bail reform proposal by pointing to a guest sitting in the front row of the balcony in the packed Assembly chamber — Newark woman Cassandra Dock — who approached the governor at a Union City town hall meeting last year and asked him to help reduce violence on Newark's city streets.
Though he was light on specifics, Christie said laws should change to allow judges to weigh a defendant's potential threat to the community when determining bail. The governor also proposed mandatory substance abuse treatment for non-violent offenders with addiction problems.
"It will send a clear message to those who have fallen victim to the disease of drug abuse – we want to help you, not throw you away. We will require you to get treatment. Your life has value. Every one of God’s creations can be redeemed. Everyone deserves a second chance," Christie said.
Christie ended his address by reiterating that the state is better off now than it was two years ago, before he took office.
"We have climbed out of the hole that was left to us – together. Now it is time to raise the great flag of the State of New Jersey as high as we can – together."
He closed with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that touted a message of unity.
"We may have come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now," he said.
Read the full text of Christie's speech here.