Gov. Chris Christie recapped eight years of achievements in a lengthy final State of the State address Tuesday afternoon in the General Assembly chambers.
Some remarks were aimed at Gov.-elect Phil Murphy, on topics such as school funding and unions, while others were focused on his role in achieving certain milestones for the state.
“We need to remember where we were nine years ago,” he said. “On the brink of financial ruin as a state. More people unemployed than at any time in modern history. A culture in Trenton of avoiding the tough decisions. Of taxing more. Of spending more. Of borrowing at a breakneck pace. The highest property taxes in America growing at a record rate. We needed tough and plain-spoken leadership to deal with these problems. We needed to care less about being loved and more about being respected. That’s why we ran for governor.”
Here are what he said are his key achievements:
- Capping property taxes: “Together, we passed a 2 percent cap on property taxes with only four exceptions. It was tough medicine, but tough medicine was needed to deal with this issue. We did it for our constituents, and it worked. In 2017, property taxes increased by only 1.64 percent. Therefore, in the last seven years, property taxes have increased 1.98 percent per year. That has saved our property taxpayers $18.2 billion over those years, compared to the previous system in place.”
- Camden’s revitalization: “Due to our designation of Camden as a Garden State Growth Zone, a promise made and kept from the 2009 campaign, 28 projects have sprung up across the city of Camden. These projects will have $1.4 billion in private investment, create nearly 2,000 new jobs and retain over 3,500 more jobs. The development will spur 7,000 construction jobs for our building trades. It is a who’s who of American business: Holtec, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Philadelphia 76ers, Subaru of America, American Water, EMR Eastern, Lockheed Martin, Cooper University Health and the new $700 million Camden waterfront project with office space, residential units and a hotel. A waterfront hotel instead of a waterfront jail in Camden.”
- A balanced budget: “Eight years ago, we inherited a budget that was bloated, out of balance and riddled with gimmicks. (It was) $2 billion in deficit in a fiscal year that was only five months from ending. A projected $11 billion deficit in the coming year. A total of $13 billion in projected deficits over our first 18 months. Too many employees doing too little and costing too much. Today, budgets have been balanced for eight years in a row. Over 10,000 fewer state employees. Discretionary spending nearly $2 billion less than it was 10 years ago. One-shot revenues down to 2.8 percent from 13.2 percent. We are handing off a state that is growing and a budget that is balanced.”
- Job and economic growth: “Eight years ago, we had lost 248,000 private sector jobs, and businesses were leaving our state at a record pace. Today, we have helped the private sector create 334,400 new jobs, and 108,252 new businesses were created in New Jersey in 2017 alone, an all-time economic record for our state. (He also acknowledged the slow growth in the state’s population.) Lower tax policies have worked to revive a moribund economy and lead to seven consecutive years of private sector job growth. That is a very consequential accomplishment for all the people of our state.”
- Restructuring Rutgers University and helping Rowan University grow: “We signed the bipartisan New Jersey Medical and Health Sciences Education and Restructuring Act and fixed decades of lost opportunity. Today, Rutgers has a medical school, schools of public health and a cancer institute. It has gone from 55th in (National Institutes of Health) funding to 22nd. And we rid ourselves of the corruption and self-dealing that was going on at UMDNJ, a task I began as U.S. attorney and was proud to finish as governor. Rowan University became a public research university, gained a school of osteopathic medicine, now operates two medical schools and its nationally acclaimed school of engineering. It is poised to double its student population and has created innovative partnerships with community colleges to allow those students to get a four-year degree without unthinkable student debt.”
- Fixing Atlantic City’s fiscal woes: “Through legislative and executive action, we took over Atlantic City and look what has happened. We appointed former U.S. Sen. Jeff Chiesa to lead the effort, and he has done so with incredible skill and produced phenomenal results. Tax appeals that were weighing down the city with $303 million owed to casinos was negotiated down by more than 50 percent, to just over $138 million. In 2017, we announced an 11.4 percent decrease in property taxes, an average reduction of $621 for every homeowner. This was the result of our budget cutting measures that reduced city spending by $56 million over the 2015 budget. This budget will stay level in 2018 as well. As a result, Hard Rock is now investing hundreds of millions in redeveloping the Taj Mahal. The former Sands is being redeveloped. Revel has now been sold and will reopen under new management by the summer. Casino revenues are up. Non-casino revenues are up. Internet gaming was established and is now thriving. The private sector is now coming back to Atlantic City.”
- Efforts to curb opioid-related deaths: “We have the nation’s strongest limit on opioid prescriptions and, since we implemented our new restrictions, those prescriptions have decreased by over 15 percent. We established state sharing in our prescription monitoring program in 2014 with our neighbors in Delaware. Since that time, due to the push from New Jersey, we now have 15 partner states, including our neighbors in New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. We went from 198,000 cross-border requests in 2015 to 1.1 million requests in 2016 to over 3.5 million requests in 2017.”
- The Transportation Trust Fund: “I wanted the TTF to stop being a political football for both parties. I wanted a plan that significantly increased our expenditures on infrastructure. I wanted a plan that constitutionally dedicated every penny of the gas tax. I wanted a plan that also represented tax fairness to the people of New Jersey. Together, we reached every one of my goals and our next governor, no matter how long he serves, will not have to reauthorize the TTF.”
In response to Christie’s address, Democratic leadership said that, although he took credit for some of the ideas of the Legislature, he ended on a good night.
“For a minute there, I almost thought I was going to miss him,” Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) told reporters after the speech.
“He laid out the good things that were done with the bipartisan efforts in both houses of the Legislature, and he kind of ended it with a lot of grace, and elegance, and wishes for the new administration. I think that was a high point.”
Both Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and new Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) said Christie took credit for some of their and their party’s ideas, but the collaborative effort in passing certain measures was what mattered.
The members also turned toward the incoming governor.
“We need to give Phil a chance” to enter the field, Sweeney said.
Sweeney also said that some of the changes going on in Washington, D.C., such as the tax reform, have inadvertently given the state an opportunity to look more closely at its own practices.
Ideas such as county-level public school boards, a different way to approach Murphy’s millionaire’s tax, and other such ideas now have an opportunity to be heard, Sweeney said.
“How much government do we want, and how much government can we afford?” he said.
Assembly Budget Committee Chair Eliana Pintor Marin (D-Newark) echoed Christie on the success of economic incentives, but added that, while she is looking forward to working with Murphy, hard financial times — in part due to the moves in D.C. — were ahead of the state.
Coughlin reiterated a point made earlier in the day, that the Assembly would have to have a mind of its own on certain issues, and be more thorough about legislation before taking action.
But, he added, “being thorough and thoughtful doesn’t mean being slow.”
Each bill would require its own time frame, he said.