Christie Slams Dems In Budget Address


By John Celock

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) returned to Trenton after ending his presidential campaign and picked up where he left off, attacking Democrats and public sector unions as he unveiled his annual budget proposal.

Christie used his budget address Tuesday afternoon to highlight his record and continue his regular attacks on public sector unions by calling for changes to health benefits for state workers, while calling for no new taxes and not to pass a constitutional amendment to guarantee pension payments. Christie also used the speech to call on lawmakers to focus on governing and not on the 2017 gubernatorial race to succeed him, which has been underway for several years.

“Let me remind you that the election of our next governor is 630 days away,” he said. “What are we going to do waste those days on partisanship and politics?”

Christie said he wants to see a “modest” hike put in public employee health co-pays, which he said will reduce the amount of unnecessary emergency room visits, along with other changes to employee health costs in the budget plan. Christie has made public employee pensions and benefits a top issue of his governorship, regularly attacking what he said are “platinum benefits” being sought by unions.

He said that his budget proposal will provide the highest state payment to the pension system in state history. The payment comes following litigation over the amount of the state’s annual payment to the system and a series of years where the state deferred payments.

Christie attacked legislative Democrats for a proposed constitutional amendment that would make the pension payment the first obligation for state budget payments annually. He said the amendment would hurt the state’s obligations in other areas, noting that 95 percent of annual budget growth is related to pension and benefits costs for public sector workers.

“This is not the real world that New Jerseyeans live in everyday,” Christie said.

Christie focused part of his speech on the state’s Transportation Trust Fund, which is due to expire at the end of June. He said he does not want to continue to raise gas taxes to fund the transportation plan, noting he wants to see more tax equity. Legislative Democrats have said that a gas tax hike should be on the table for funding the plan.

Christie also attacked those who say the transportation fund is broke, saying that the state has been able to fund current projects.

Christie spent much of the early part of his speech focusing on the need to reduce taxes in the state, including the estate tax. Reiterating his previous calls to veto a millionaire’s tax, he said that the state is losing residents and any tax hike will cause more to leave. He noted that retirees are leaving, along with those in the 18-34 demographic.

Christie said that while traditional sunbelt destinations including North Carolina and Florida have been on the list of places people have relocated to, others are looking to move to neighboring New York and Pennsylvania.

“The only thing is warmer in those two states are the warmth of their lower taxes,” Christie said. “Those who propose higher taxes and new regulations in these chambers need to look at the facts.”

Christie said he wants the focus to be on governing, saying that he and the Democratic-controlled Legislature have worked together on a number of issues since he took office in 2010. With the 2017 gubernatorial race underway since before Christie’s 2013 reelection, the term-limited Christie vowed not to be a lame duck and sought to reestablish himself as the central focus in New Jersey politics. Christie’s central role in state politics dimmed in recent years as his attention went outside of New Jersey during his 2014 stint as Republican Governors Association chairman and his presidential campaign, which saw him spending much of his time in New Hampshire.

The 2017 race features a likely three way Democratic battle between Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, Senate President Steve Sweeney and former ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy, while on the GOP side Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick have both expressed interest in running.

“We can sit and reason together for the next 630 days or we can fight for the next 630 days and leave our citizens without hope,” Christie said.