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1-14-15 State of the State Message Delivered

NJ Spotlight - Governor Trumpets Reforms – And Makes Surprising Pitch For School Vouchers…Speech also touts initiative in Camden district but barely mentions more controversial changes in Newark



Gov. Chris Christie gave vouchers a surprising second life -- or was it the third or fourth life? -- during his State of the State address yesterday in Trenton.

“More school reform is needed, and a great first step is to listen to the visionary leadership of Sen. (Thomas) Kean and pass the Opportunity Scholarship Act,” Christie said, alluding to the voucher bill sponsored by Kean.

“Let’s keep driving for better outcomes, and let’s give parents and students more choices, not less,” Christie said.

School vouchers have been a pet issue for Christie throughout his five years in office, but this time his call appeared to be wishful thinking, at best, as Democratic leaders scoffed at the idea and even some Republicans appeared to be caught by surprise.

Kean’s bill would create a scholarship program for low-income students, funded through state tax credits. But the legislation had been left for dead, politically, after coming close but failing to win support two years ago, when even some Democrats were willing to support a pilot program limited to a handful of districts.

“What’s old is new again,” said a beaming Kean, a Union County Republican, when he was approached by NJ Spotlight after the speech yesterday.

But he hedged on the real prospects for passage.

“I’m always optimistic,” Kean said. “The governor called it out as important, and I’m hoping we can get bipartisan support on it.”

Asked what might be next for the bill and whether there had been any talks with Democrats, Kean replied: “We have weeks to go before the budget process starts in earnest.”

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) was more blunt.

“That came out of left field,” Sweeney said in an interview after the speech. “That completely came out of left field. I looked at Tom Kean when he said it, and he even looked shocked.”

Asked about the school-voucher bill’s prospects, Sweeney said: “No, we’re not even going to discuss it.”

Where the resurrected proposal came from was unclear, as it had been barely discussed even by Christie over the last two years – especially after the enactment of the Urban Hope Act, a bill to create a new type of charter schools in Camden, which was also cited by Christie yesterday.

“We did Urban Hope as a compromise to see if that works,” said state Assemblyman Lou Greenwald (D-Camden), the Assembly majority leader, who had supported the pilot version of the school-voucher bill. “Now let’s see if it works.”

As for the call for reviving that legislation, Greenwald dismissed it: “That was to get the applause. That was a more of a national thing.”

Indeed, school vouchers remain a national issue that can earn some conservative points for Christie, who has long been expected to make a run for president. While the issue has died down a bit as a prominent cause, some observers said Christie almost had to reassert his support, given that some of his main rivals, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, come from states that have school-voucher programs.

And Christie’s mention of vouchers certainly won applause from the gallery and from Republicans in the chamber. Some long-time supporters said they were pleased to hear Christie revive the issue.

“I support it 100 percent, we need it, God knows we need it,” said Patricia Bombelyn, an advocate who attended the speech yesterday and helped an unsuccessful court effort to win passage in 2012.

”I was happy to hear it,” she said. “It’s always possible. There are always new challenges on the table, and older ones more difficult. In the course of that, there comes a time where you can’t say no any more.”

The OSA bill was not the only education topic highlighted by the governor yesterday, as he trumpeted education as a prime area of accomplishment during his first term.

He cited the bipartisan enactment of a new tenure-reform bill, and what he claimed was record state funding for schools during the last four years of his governorship.

The latter claim has long been disputed. Total state funding reached a new high last year but only after steep cuts in Christie’s first year. And the state education spending totals include court-ordered funding for the state’s neediest districts under the Abbott v. Burke rulings. Meanwhile, state aid has not returned to pre-Christie levels in three-quarters of the state’s school districts.

Christie also continues to portray the state’s takeover of Camden city schools as his shining example of education reform, to a degree even more than the reform instituted in the state-run Newark schools.

Last year, Christie invited the Camden and Newark school superintendents to be his guests at the State of the State address. Yesterday, the governor cited the three-year-old Newark teacher contract – the first in the state to include performances bonuses -- but that was the extent of his praise for a district where state-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson has been embroiled in disputes with community leaders.

But the Camden schools were once again front and center, with schools Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard sitting in the front row for a second straight year, along with Camden Mayor Dana Redd and Camden County Police Chief Scott Thomson.

“These are the leaders getting the job done,” Christie said.

“Hope and optimism is up, and the fear of failure is down,” he said of the Camden schools. “I have been in Camden High School, and those children are once again feeling a sense of pride of where they go to school and what their future looks like.”


New York Times - Christie’s National Aspirations Underlie State Speech



TRENTON — As Gov. Chris Christie delivered his State of the State address on Tuesday, it sounded less like the valedictory of a presidential hopeful on his way to bigger and better things than a defensive move by a politician anticipating the shots that could be leveled against him.

Speaking in the ornate Assembly chamber full of local and state dignitaries, Mr. Christie seemed largely to be addressing, or pre-empting, criticisms — from Democrats, but also from fellow Republicans in a field of White House aspirants that becomes more crowded by the week.

“It has become fashionable in some quarters to run down our state,” the governor said dismissively.


He did not explicitly mention the problems that have already shaped his detractors’ critique: the eight credit downgrades on his watch, more than any other New Jersey governor; an unemployment rate that remains higher than the national average; the regain of only about half of the jobs lost in the recession even as the nation has recovered all those jobs and more.

Instead, Mr. Christie urged his audience to consider “where we were and how far we’ve come,” noting that when he took office, unemployment was much higher, and that his Democratic predecessor had also struggled to balance the budget.

“The state of our state continues to get better,” Mr. Christie said in an optimistic opening, but one that was well shy of the triumphal declaration of robust health that governors and presidents[LS1]  often deliver in these annual checkups.

While Mr. Christie, 52, took the podium here as governor, he spoke as an all-but-declared presidential candidate. He pronounced the nation “beset by anxiety” and called for “a New Jersey renewal and an American renewal.”

He returned to the themes he planned to highlight before pension problems and the bridge scandal ate away at his approval ratings, presenting himself as a tell-it-like-it-is reformer who can rise above partisanship to do the right thing.

“America’s leadership in the world is called into question because of a pattern of indecision and inconsistency,” Mr. Christie said. “During this time of uncertainty, it seems our leaders in Washington would rather stoke division for their own political gain.”

Mr. Christie spent the biggest chunk of his speech on the need to streamline drug treatment and prisoner re-entry programs, an issue that resonates with liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans alike.

He boasted of progress in Camden, where a new police force, a new schools superintendent and new businesses lured by state subsidies have produced optimism in what the governor repeatedly noted was once considered “the most dangerous city in America.”

But his speech was more striking for its omissions. He did not mention the recovery from Hurricane Sandy, which was once his calling card, but more than two years later has produced lingering resentment from homeowners struggling to rebuild. He declared that he would veto any income tax increase, but was silent on the idea of a gas tax increase, which even some Republicans believe is necessary to fill the state’s transportation trust fund and to fix bridges and roads.

Nor did Mr. Christie mention Atlantic City, where one-third of the casinos closed in 2014, the fourth year in what had been a five-year plan by the governor to turn that struggling city around.

Mr. Christie has been governor five years and has the scars to show for it. As he used his speech to pitch himself to a national audience, he had to explain some of those blemishes.

So he argued that state employee pensions are underfunded “because of poor decisions by governors and legislatures of both parties, over decades, not just years.” He did not add that he failed to make the pension payments he himself had promised.


Mr. Christie blamed high taxes for the recent news that Mercedes would leave New Jersey for Georgia, but offered no hint at how to reduce taxes. And he made a swipe at “some overly partisan corners of this chamber” who have continued to press questions about the scandal that started with the disclosure of his administration’s role in closing lanes to the George Washington Bridge, apparently in an act of political retribution.

Mr. Christie has traveled the country as chairman of the Republican Governors Association over the last year, and on those travels, he said, “anxiety was the most palpable emotion I saw and felt.” He described an 82-year-old woman in Vero Beach, Fla., who grabbed his hand in a rope line and asked: “What’s happening to our country? We used to control events. Now events control us.”

The governor said: “We need to address this anxiety head on. We need to renew the spirit and the hopes of our state, our country and our people.”

A poll released on Tuesday showed the difficulties Mr. Christie faces at home. Voters in a PublicMind Poll, by Fairleigh Dickinson University, declared their state worse under Mr. Christie’s watch on taxes and spending, the economy, ethics and the “lives of citizens.” More people disapproved than approved of his job performance.


The governor once planned to run for president based on his ability to attract broad support in blue-state New Jersey, but the poll showed him losing support he once enjoyed among independents, women and public employee union households.

By a wide margin, New Jersey voters said he was more concerned with running for president than running the state.

On this last criticism, Mr. Christie seems unfazed. He met with reporters from national media outlets before the speech, causing a minor uproar among reporters for New Jersey outlets, who were shut out. He will spend Wednesday in South Carolina, delegating his powers, as he has for most of the past month, to his lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno.

Star Ledger – 5 Things Christie Discussed in His 2015 State of the State Speech

By Brent Johnson | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com 
Email the author | Follow on Twitter 
on January 14, 2015 at 6:00 AM, updated January 14, 2015 at 8:22 AM


TRENTON — Traditionally, New Jersey's governor uses the State of the State address to discuss the condition of the state's economy and government, and to present a fresh set of ideas for the rest of the year.

Gov. Chris Christie did that on Tuesday in his fifth State of the State, trumpeting how the state's unemployment rate was falling and once again warning about the need to further overhaul the public-worker pension system.

At times, though, it also sounded like he was delivering a stump speech on the presidential campaign trail.

Here are five things Christie discussed in the 43-minute address:

1. His words had a national focus

Christie has repeatedly said he is still trying to decide whether he will run for the 2016 Republican nomination for president. But there were a number of signs Tuesday that the governor may be gearing up for a bid, trying to appeal to voters — and donors — outside of the state.

He criticized "our leaders in Washington" and name-checked Chicago, Maryland, Kansas, Colorado, Maine, and Arkansas — places he visited in an ongoing tour of the U.S. last year as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

"I believe in a New Jersey renewal which can help lead to an American renewal both in every individual home and in homes around the world," Christie added toward the end of the speech.

MORE: 5 things Chris Christie didn't discuss in 2015 State of the State speech

2. He believes the state's economy is getting better

Christie reminded the crowd that when he took office five years ago, New Jersey's unemployment rate was 9.7 percent. Now, he said, the rate is 6.4 percent. He also stressed that his administration has bolstered taxpayer-funded economic incentive programs to retain jobs and overcome massive budget deficits. "We didn’t do it the Washington way, by raising taxes," Christie said. "We did it by cutting spending, shrinking government, and fundamentally reforming the way government operates."

He did not mention that the state's credit rating has been downgraded a record eight times during his tenure and that the unemployment rate still lags behind the national mark of 5.7 percent.

3. Pension reform is coming, but an income tax hike is not

For months, Christie has warned that despite working with Democrats in 2011 to institute major reforms to New Jersey's under-funded public-worker pension system, a further overhaul is needed to close a $90 billion unfunded liability. For months, he has also promised that a special commission he appointed will present a new report with recommendations on how to fix the issue. In the speech, Christie continued to push the case but didn't offer any insight into the report, which has still not been issued. "A long-term solution and sustainable future for our pension and health benefit plans are difficult but worthy things to achieve," Christie said. "We took a historic first step in 2011. Let’s make 2015 the year we finish the job."

State of the State: Chris Christie on pension reform in New JerseyGov. Chris Christie delivered the 2015 State of the State Address to 216th Session of the N.J. State Legislature, Tuesday January 13, 2015 in Trenton. In his speech Christie highlighted his administration’s work in pension reform and renewed his commitment to lowering pension and health costs. (Source: NJTV)

But he did make a clear vow on another issue: not to raise income taxes. "I have vetoed four income tax increases passed by this body," he said. "And make no mistake, I will veto any more income tax increases that come before me. ... The higher our taxes are, the fewer people and businesses will come to New Jersey and the more who will consider leaving."

4. Drug abusers will soon get new help

As New Jersey grapples with a growing heroin and opoid crisis, Christie announced two efforts to change the way drug abuse is treated in New Jersey: a single phone number for those seeking help and to expand the offender re-entry program in place at the Hudson County Correctional Facility. "Every life is an individual gift from god and no life is disposable," Christie said. "We have an obligation to help people reclaim their lives."

This wasn't a surprise. Though he touts himself as a conservative on most issues, Christie has been progressive on drug abuse. While he is against legalizing marijuana, he has called the War on Drugs a failure and favors giving treatment to low-level drug offenders instead of incarceration.

5. He sees Camden as a model for how cities can improve

Christie has focused much attention during his tenure on improving Camden, a city often cited as one of the poorest and most dangerous in America. In 2013, the state took over the city's school system and Camden County took over its policing. Over time, the governor said Tuesday, Camden has seen great progress, including seeing murder drop 51 percent.

He also championed this as a bipartisan achievement, since many of the city's officials are Democrats. "There is no better example of what we can achieve if we put aside party and pettiness than the results we are seeing in Camden," Christie said.