Christie, a charismatic conservative and an early favorite in the
Republican bid for the White House in 2016, used his State of the
State address to list his conservative policy prescriptions, trying
to leave two scandals behind.
"The last week has certainly tested this administration. Mistakes
were clearly made. And as a result, we let down the people we are
entrusted to serve," Christie said in opening his annual address.
"Without a doubt, we will cooperate with all appropriate inquiries
to ensure that this breach of trust does not happen again."
Re-elected in a landslide victory last November, he faces
accusations that his aides orchestrated a bridge blocking to punish
a political opponent, coupled with new allegations, pushed by a
democratic lawmaker, over Christie's use of federal storm aid.
Two sets of emails last week appeared to show that aides planned
lane closures for several days last September on a stretch of
highway leading to the George Washington Bridge, which spans the
Hudson River between New Jersey and Manhattan, and then lied about
Christie has denied any knowledge of the plan to snarl traffic at
the bridge as political payback against the Democratic mayor of
nearby Fort Lee, New Jersey, for his refusal to endorse Christie's
The governor's speech mostly addressed the "Jersey Comeback" — which
Christie has long claimed has resulted in private sector jobs growth
and secured public-private investment in the Garden State — and his
cooperation with the Democrat-controlled state legislature in this
heavily Democratic state.
"No state in this country has shown more bipartisan cooperation and
governance over the last four years than New Jersey, and our people
are proud of it. Let's resolve today that we will continue to put
those people first. We will do our jobs," Christie said.
"These are our achievements: Four balanced budgets. Passed with
bipartisan support. Pension reform and tenure reform. Passed with
bipartisan support. A cap on property taxes. Passed with bipartisan
support," Christie said. "We acted, and we acted together."
Christie also gave a nod to an issue that was at the top of his
agenda in his first term — an across-the-board tax cut — though he
said he will wait to announce specific ideas when he gives his
budget address next month.
He also vowed to tackle abuses in the state pension system.
The state's economy has seen signs of improvement over the last
several months. Its unemployment rate experienced the largest
monthly drop on record in November, dropping 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 in the same period the previous fiscal year. But that is
still 1.2 percent, or $98 million, under budget.
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, such
as spending cuts, while repairing New Jersey's reputation for
corruption and graft.
[to top of second column]
TAKEN DOWN A PEG
A prolific fundraiser for GOP officials and candidates across the
country, Christie has taken on a leadership role with the Republican
Governor's Association. But the brewing scandals threaten to tarnish
that reputation and Christie's national appeal.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll showed the bridge closure scandal had taken a
toll on Christie's image, with 26 percent of those asked saying they
were now less favorable toward him, compared with 3 percent, who
said they were more favorable, and 49 percent, whose view was the
More respondents believed he had a hand in the scandal, with 31
percent saying they thought he was aware his staff intentionally
caused the traffic jam, compared with 28 percent, who said they
believed his statements that he was in the dark.
The poll included responses from 986 people contacted January 10-14
and had a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.6 percentage
The poll showed Christie with effectively equal support from
Republicans and independents among possible GOP candidates, backed
by 18 percent of those asked, narrowly leading Congressman Paul
Ryan, who was favored by 17 percent of respondents, according to
results from 771 polled January 10-14. That result had a credibility
interval of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
Democrats, who control both houses of the New Jersey state
legislature, have called a special session to address the traffic
Meanwhile, a New Jersey Democrat has requested a federal probe into
the use of storm relief funds for an advertising campaign, intended
to draw visitors back to the Jersey Shore, that featured Christie as
he was seeking re-election.
In a brief press conference following Christie's speech, the state's
Democratic leadership laid out their policy differences with
Christie on issues ranging from the state pension to tax cuts. But
they also echoed Christie's message that officials needed to get on
with the business of the state.
"We know everyone's fascinated by Bridgegate," Louis Greenwald, the
assembly Democratic leader, said in response to a series of
questions about the scandal. "New Jersey continued to fall behind
neighboring states and to languish."
(Additional reporting by Hilary Russ and Zach Cook; editing by Gunna
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