Christie, a charismatic conservative and an early favorite in the
upcoming Republican race for the White House in 2016, was re-elected
in a landslide victory last November. But a pair of scandals coming
in the first weeks of the year have put him on the defensive.
Two sets of emails last week appeared to show that Christie's aides
had orchestrated lane closures last September in a stretch of
highway leading to the George Washington Bridge, which spans New
Jersey and Manhattan, and lied about it.
Christie has denied any knowledge of a scheme to snarl traffic to
wreak political payback against the Democratic mayor of the city of
Fort Lee, New Jersey, and said there is nothing in the emails to
suggest he had any direct knowledge of it.
While Christie is likely to use his State of the State speech to
address these challenges, he is also expected to tout his
accomplishments and set out priorities for the year.
Those could include an across-the-board tax cut, an idea he proposed
in 2012, which has been delayed as revenue has fallen below
expectations, as well as ways to generate more job growth.
The state's economy has seen signs of improvement over the last
several months. Its unemployment rate experienced its largest
monthly drop on record in November, dropping by 0.6 percentage point
to 7.8 percent, according to the state labor department.
Revenue has also been recovering steadily. In the first five months
of fiscal 2014, which began on July 1, New Jersey took in 7.9
percent more revenue — from income, sales, corporate and other taxes — than for the same period the year before. But that's still 1.2
percent, or $98 million, under budget.
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Still, the state's fiscal situation, and Christie's ideas for
improving it, could be overshadowed by his response to the scandals
and speculation about his political future.
Since taking office four years ago, Christie — a former federal
prosecutor — has built a national reputation as a Republican capable
of winning bipartisan support for his conservative priorities, like
spending cuts, while repairing New Jersey's reputation for
corruption and graft.
A prolific fundraiser for Republicans across the country, Christie
has taken on a leadership role with the Republican Governor's
But the brewing scandals threaten to tarnish that reputation and
Christie's national appeal.
Democrats, who control both houses of the state legislature, have
called a special session to address the traffic scandal.
Meanwhile, a New Jersey Democrat has requested a federal probe into
the use of storm relief funds for an ad campaign, intended to draw
visitors back to the Jersey Shore, that featured Christie as he was
(Additional reporting by Hilary Russ; editing by Eric Walsh)
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