Christie Returns To Original Themes; Avoids Bridgegate

By John Celock

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) used a speech Tuesday evening to the state’s business community to return to themes from early in his governorship and did not address the Bridgegate scandal.

Speaking to the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner in Washington, Christie focused on pushing pension and benefit reforms, along with renewing reforms he put in place to address the state’s property tax hikes, themes that he has been pressing since he took office in 2010. Christie’s speech also returned to familiar refrains in his annual speeches to the business community of pushing how he worked with Democrats in the state Legislature to enact his agenda.

“I don’t want to be judged that as having failed the next generation of Americans,” Christie told business leaders in his focus on state management issues.

Christie said that he wants the state Legislature to renew a law that sets a binding pay raise cap on arbitration in order to address property tax hikes in the state. The binding arbitration legislation was a signature move of Christie’s early in his administration and he has touted it since as his way of addressing the property tax hikes. The original law sunset on April 1 and renewal has passed the Democratic-controlled state Senate but remains stalled in the Democratic-controlled state Assembly.

Christie said that without a renewal local government leaders will either be forced to ask voters to approve property tax hikes over the two-percent annual cap or make budget cuts. Christie enacted the two-percent cap early in his term.

Christie warned business leaders on what he sees happening if property taxes rise above two-percent annually.

“Property taxes hikes going back to the seven-percent per year range will squash economic growth in our state,” Christie said.

Christie placed the blame on the arbitration hike bill in the hands of the Assembly.

The governor also took aim at pension and benefit reform for state employees, a favorite topic of his since taking office. He described a situation that was going to hurt the long-term economic growth of the state and said that legislation needs to be passed immediately.

“Next year we will spend more money on retiree health benefits than current employees,” Christie said. “We will spend more money on health benefits for people doing nothing than people doing something for our state.”
Christie did not address any of the scandals that have engulfed his administration including the closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge last year and allegations from Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer (D) that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R) said that Hurricane Sandy relief aid to Hoboken was tied to the mayor’s approval of a development project favored by Christie. The governor also did not address reform of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a topic which has developed momentum in the aftermath of the lane closures.

Christie has denied any involvement in the lane closures, assigning the blame to several aides. Guadagno and Christie have denied threatening Zimmer.

While state legislative Democrats continue to investigate Christie, the governor touted the working relationship he has had with the Legislature, noting that they have passed his agenda. He also zeroed in on his relationship with state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), an ally who is a likely 2017 gubernatorial candidate when Christie is term-limited.

“The prediction was it would be nothing but combustibility,” Christie said of his relationship with Sweeney. “Combining me, a shy, retiring, soft spoken, thoughtful guy with a shy, retiring, soft spoken, thoughtful ironworker Senate President Steve Sweeney would lead to nothing but an academic atmosphere that would lead to the Statehouse, the second oldest continuously operated in the nation’s history, to finally be blown up and finally sent to ruble at the bottom of the government.”