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7-1-15 In the News

NJ Spotlight - Down in State, National Polls and Trailing Crowded Field, Christie Still Upbeat…Declares in announcement of presidential bid that nearly six years of dealing with tough issues in NJ have honed his leadership skills

 John Reitmeyer | July 1, 2015

If Gov. Chris Christie is going to win the Republican nomination for president, he’s going to have to do it the hard way. Unpopular at home as the state economy has sputtered, Christie also faces fund-raising challenges and a leery national GOP.

Yet Christie, a second-term Republican, made the case in a long-anticipated 2016 presidential announcement yesterday that the last 5½ years he’s spent in the State House have prepared him well, and that he’s now ready to serve as the nation’s next leader.

He said during a 30-minute speech held inside a crowded and steamy gymnasium at his alma mater, Livingston High School, that his work guiding the state out of the last recession and his handling of the ongoing recovery from Superstorm Sandy proved his leadership abilities. And he also said he figured out during his time as governor when to compromise with Democrats and when to hold firm against special interests.

Most of all, he said, he’s learned that leadership means telling people the truth and not just what they want to hear.

“In the end everybody, leadership matters,” Christie said to applause. “I mean what I say and I say what I mean, and that’s what America needs right now.”

“We are going to tell it like it is today so that we can create a greater opportunity for everyone tomorrow,” Christie said moments later. “The truth will set us free, everybody.”

For Christie, the announcement speech was an opportunity to set a tone for his campaign and to lay out a broad vision for the country’s future. That will be crucial, political analysts say, because he has no New Jersey economic miracle or other noteworthy item of substance to promote as a governor now running for national office.

To his supporters, the presidential campaign announcement represented the reemergence of one of the most skilled politicians the state has seen in recent generations -- and a demonstration of how Christie might still pull it off.

“He’s ready to lead America,” said U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Hunterdon) as music still blared in the gymnasium following Christie’s speech. “He will speak the truth as he sees it.”

“I think that what is important is that people around the country see what we’ve seen for the last six years,” said state Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union). “People want authenticity.”

But for the governor’s critics – throngs of people protested outside the event, including many public workers who are still upset with Christie for going back on a promise to better fund the state pension system – the announcement offered an opportunity to criticize his record in New Jersey and call for him to step down.

Roads here are crumbling, with no stable source of revenue for the fund that fixes them. Public-transit commuters are facing a 9 percent fare hike in September. And the state budget that Christie just signed into law for the fiscal year that begins today spends about a $1 billion less on education than the state’s school-aid law calls for, and nearly $2 billion less than the amount promised in pension-funding laws Christie himself enacted.

There are economic issues as well, including a 6.5 percent unemployment rate that’s higher than the national average and higher than the jobless rates in most other states, and revenue collections that still lag behind the pre-recession peak despite business-tax cuts and other pro-growth initiatives enacted since Christie took office in early 2010 that were supposed to grow the economy.

Christie’s approval rating in New Jersey was at just 30 percent in a recent Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll.

Analilia Mejia, director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, said Christie may be trying to forge his national reputation as a truth-teller, but he is “shamelessly trying to spin a dismal record here in New Jersey.”

"The middle class is paying more in property taxes while the wealthy and politically connected enjoy big tax breaks,” Mejia said. “America, take it from us: You do not want what Chris Christie is selling." Wendell Steinhauer, the president of the New Jersey Education Association, said Christie should step down as governor to accommodate his run for president, something the governor has so far said he will not do.

“We face big problems in this state,” Steinhauer said. “New Jersey’s taxpayers deserve better than a part-time governor who collects a full-time salary while he travels the country to advance his own career, and lets taxpayers pick up the tab.”

Yet for Christie, the biggest obstacles between him and the Republican nomination right now may not be his standing in New Jersey, but with the national GOP. Once a top-tier candidate coming off an impressive 2013 re-election win, Christie was hobbled by the ensuing George Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal, with three key officials in his administration facing federal criminal charges.

The latest survey of national GOP voters conducted by the Monmouth University Poll had Christie tied for eighth among potential Republican candidates, trailing former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, among others. His favorability rating was also widely upside down at 26 percent favorable and 43 percent unfavorable.

And Christie placed 11th in a recent Fox News poll, which is important because he will have to place in the top 10 to get on the TV network’s debate stage.

Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth Poll, said Christie was wise to soften his delivery during yesterday’s announcement speech, focusing on imagery of his childhood in Livingston and his goal of restoring the country for the next generation of children, including his own, who joined him on the stage along with his wife, Mary Pat.

“It was definitely a solid entrance into the field,” Murray said.
Matthew Hale, a political science professor at Seton Hall University, said the “hometown message” Christie emphasized should serve him well going forward.

“He made a really nice connection,” Hale said.

Right after the announcement, Christie headed to New Hampshire, where he will be holding a series of events for the next several days through the July 4th holiday weekend. He’s already focused a lot of attention and resources on the early primary state in recent weeks, and he will likely need to win or at least score very well there to become a successful candidate.

With questions about Christie’s record and the New Jersey economy likely looming among voters in New Hampshire, Hale predicted Christie already has an explanation at the ready. He noted tax cuts and other Christie policy initiatives were blocked by Democrats who control the New Jersey Legislature.

“He’s got a really easy pivot – it’s the Democrats’ fault,” Hale said.


NJ Spotlight - Vetoes Get Attention But Some Education Spending Avoids Budget Ax…More than $14M in new expenditures includes boost in funding for adult high schools, career programs and vo-tech schools

John Mooney | June 30, 2015


Gov. Chris Christie garnered headlines when he vetoed various line items in the Democrats’ proposed state budget, but almost as notable were some of the proposals he left in the final spending plan.

While Christie vetoed more than $20 million in new spending, approved were three notable education-related expenditures pushed by individual Democratic lawmakers:

  • $7 million for career and vocational schools, including $4 million that will be restored to adult high schools that had seen their budgets decimated in the last four years;
  • $5.2 million for state aid to nonpublic schools, specifically for nursing services, technology and school security; and
  • $2 million to set up two grant programs to help schools address professional development and technology needs.

Approval of those spending items got little notice amid the rush of Christie’s line-item vetoes, amounting to $1.6 billion in all, on his way to finalizing the state budget for fiscal 2016.

But the actions were certainly was noticed by advocates and longtime backers of the bills.

“Career and technical education is an educational and economic strategy that can help to ensure our state’s continued growth and competitiveness,” said Judy Savage, executive director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools.

“We are very grateful to the leadership of the Assembly and Senate for making these programs a priority,” she continued, “and to the Governor for approving this funding as part of the state budget.”

The spending was part of a package of bills shepherded by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) to help the vo-tech sector, with most of his proposals ultimately passing.

In addition to the $4 million for adult schools, the remaining $3 million would go toward continuing a grant program to encourage vo-tech partnerships with local high schools, higher education institutions and New Jersey employers. Six such partnerships were funded under last year’s budget.

Prieto said last week, before the governor’s decision, that he was optimistic about ultimately winning Christie’s approval

“I think he gets it, and we’ve had good conversations,” Prieto said. “This package of bills spurs a dialogue that the United States has not been having with technical and vocational education.

“Everybody is not built for college,” Prieto added, “and I think things like this make a big difference.”

The only change that Christie did make in the package was the elimination of a line in the Democrats’ budget language that would have called for a study of long-term budget needs for these schools.

Christie also kept in the budget three different funding line-items for nonpublic schools, a priority for state Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic).

Schaer, as chairman of the Assembly’s budget committee, has long complained that private and parochial schools have been shortchanged in certain non-instructional funding streams available to public schools, especially for security funding.

“It is clear and obvious in terms of what is going on in today’s world with acts of terrorism being directed at schools and particular religious schools, whatever that religion may be,” he said last week.

“No matter whether one send their children to private school, public school, charter schools, religious schools, these are all New Jersey children, and they deserve to be safe,” Schaer continued.

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The third pot of money approved by the governor was an additional $2 million in grants for local districts, $1 million for teacher training, and $1 million for technology needs related to the state’s new online PARCC testing.

That funding continues grant programs supported by state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), who chairs the Senate’s education committee.

Ruiz said last week that while the dollar amounts are not big, they reinforce the state’s support for districts struggling to fund important programs.

The technology costs for PARCC have been a main complaint about the new testing, with some individual districts saying they are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for needed technology.

“It’s not much,” Ruiz said of the total, “but it’s at least a commitment.


Star Ledger - Kean & Byrne: New Jersey will make its budget deadline -- but it won't be a good budget

By Star-Ledger Staff The Star-Ledger
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on June 29, 2015 at 6:06 AM, updated June 29, 2015 at 6:08 AM

The following exchange between former New Jersey governors Brendan T. Byrne and Tom Kean took place in a Thursday teleconference.

Q: It's looking like more partisanship in New Jersey's budget considerations. Is there any hope of getting an agreement – and on time?

GOV. BYRNE: We're talking about running the state of New Jersey, and obviously New Jersey has to keep running past July first, so we're going to have some kind of agreement. They'll deliver the usual jabs in the process, but we have to have it by July first, no matter what.

GOV. KEAN: We'll probably get a budget by deadline, but not good budget. It's not going to address the state's most serious problems. The Democrats are still having a fit over the decision on pensions, and will pass a budget where they can fund pensions for one year, but only at the cost of major tax increases. The governor can't wait for that, 'cause he'll veto it. Once again, he's taking on labor unions and vetoing taxes. The budget that emerges ought to address our two biggest problems: the Transportation Trust Fund and the shortfall on pensions. But it won't, and the state's bond rating will continue to drop.

Q: Reportedly, Gov. Christie will officially enter the presidential race tomorrow. Is he looking like a viable candidate?

BYRNE: You can be a viable candidate one day and shaky the next. I don't think Christie is going to be an ultimate candidate, but what happens in the meantime is problematical.

KEAN: When you get this many candidates, you can't rule anybody out. At the moment, even Donald Trump is showing pretty well in the New Hampshire polls. The governor has gone up there, and he's going to compete. It will be a level playing field, and he has some skills other candidates don't have. We'll see what happens.

BYRNE: You have made a good point. Tom. Christie is a viable candidate because he can do the job. That ultimately has to be taken into consideration.

Q: With New Jersey finally getting an encouraging jobs report, is it wise of Democrats to revive new their push for mandatory paid sick leave?

BYRNE: I'm not sure that's the way to get it. But mandatory sick leave, especially to the extent it's portable, is always worth considering.

KEAN: I have some sympathy with that proposal. The Democrats' worst proposal is to raise taxes on corporations and income taxes on high-net worth individuals. Nobody is going to bring jobs to New Jersey if they face a threat that will cost most of them as individuals and as corporations.

Q: Is there any candidate for governor of New Jersey we haven't heard about yet, but should?

BYRNE: I understand Tom Byrne has dropped out. Some people like Rush Holt and want him to be considered. So far he's not been really in the mix. John Degnan ought to be considered. He'd be good. There are a lot of people worth looking at.

KEAN: So far, you're only talking about three Democrats. There are lots of good Republicans in the state – young legislators, CEOs. But it's way too early to be thinking of candidates at this point.

BYRNE: We say a "good Democrat" is redundant, and a "good Republican" is an oxymoron.

Q: With the departure of Cami Anderson, should Newark schools be returned to local control?

BYRNE: Newark schools have always had problems. With personnel, frankly. Right now, I am reluctant to endorse returning local control to Newark schools.

KEAN: Let's take a little time to get over the tremendous bitterness that existed during Cami Anderson's tenure. Let's let [former state Education Commissioner] Chris Cerf, a very able guy [who has been proposed by the state to replace Anderson], look at the situation and see if he can work with mayor to put Newark's schools on a path to local control.