WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
Governor Chris Christie will start out his second State of the State speech on a bipartisan tone, thanking Democratic legislative leaders for their help on passing public pension reform and a 2 percent cap on local property taxes. But he will say much more needs to be done to further reign in government spending, according to a government source.
Christie will demand that the legislature end the long standing practice of public workers getting paid for their unused sick time at retirement, which saddles municipal balance sheets with as much as a $825 million dollar liability, according to Christie's office.
The governor has said in several recent interviews that this year his top priority will be advancing his education reform agenda. On his list is increased teacher accountability and tenure reform.
An administration source confirmed Christie will use the State of the State to reprise his theme that the state is currently failing to provide an adequate education to some 100,000 students who attend poorly performing urban districts that have historically received billions of dollars in state aid.
Peter Woolley, director of Fairleigh Dickinson's Public Mind Poll, said his latest survey shows Christie's cost cutting and accountability theme resonates with tax weary voters.
"Three in five voters continue to say the state should cut spending rather than raise taxes even it means reducing spending on important programs," Woolley said. "That's the crowd Chris Christie is clearly pleasing."
Woolley added Christie has a 53 percent approval rating, as high a level as he has scored since he took office two years ago. And while he enjoys robust support from surveyed voters who identify as Republicans, he also garners a majority of polled independents and even gets a thumbs up from one in four Democrats.
But not everyone is cheer leading Christie's track record on chartering the state through tough economic times.
Deborah Howlett, executive director of NJ Policy Perspective, a liberal think tank, said Trenton is not doing enough to grow the state's economy. She thinks Christie and the Democratic-led legislature have emphasized public financed corporate subsidies, which have failed to jump start the state's economy.
"Employment in New Jersey remains stubbornly stuck at 9.1 percent and we have seen the national unemployment rate drop to 8.5 percent, and New Jersey has been traditionally ahead of the nation in terms of unemployment," Howlett said.
Howlett thinks public spending on infrastructure and worker skill development would have been a more efficient way to spark fuller employment.
But Melanie Willoughby, senior vice president with the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said Christie's tenure has actually inspired renewed confidence in the state's business community.
"Our members believe there will be an uptick in 2012 in the state's economic activity and we are looking forward to Governor Christie continuing his course of lowering taxes and decreasing regulation," she said.
Christie delayed the State of the State address after the sudden death of Assemblyman Alex DeCroce during the final day of the legislative session at the statehouse in Trenton last week.