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.
Gov. Chris Christie kicked off his 2013 re-election campaign with a State of the State address that viewed his governorship through his own rosy lens and repeated his campaign mantra that everything the state needs – including a massive rebuilding effort after Sandy – can be achieved without raising taxes.
The governor used his annual State of the State address to make his case for quick action from Washington on a $51 billion dollar Sandy relief bill. Although Sandy had been a set back, Christie insisted the state remains on an economic upswing.
"In all, Sandy cost us over 8,000 jobs in November – mostly in our leisure and hospitality industries," Christie said. "But we were relatively fortunate. Louisiana lost 127,000 jobs after Hurricane Katrina."
Christie told the Legislature the state's economy continues to grow and rebound from the recession, with home sales and consumer spending up.
But Democratic Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald said the latest statistics suggested otherwise.
"A 9.6 unemployment rate that is close two points higher than the national average," Greenwald said. "We trail our neighboring states almost one and a half percentage points behind New York and a staggering almost two percentage points behind Pennsylvania."
Democrats also pointed to the continued increase of the number of New Jersey households living below poverty as an indication the state was headed in the wrong direction.
This November both the Governorship and all 120 seats in the legislature are up for grabs.
The speech sounded more like a stump speech than a blueprint for what kinds of legislation the governor would push in the coming year. Christie laid out a catalogue of his successes: Teacher tenure reform, pension benefits cuts for public employees, a 2 percent cap on property tax increases and the reorganization of Rutgers University.
Christie steered clear of the kinds of policy proposals he made last year to cut income taxes across the board and provide drug treatment instead of jail time for non-violent criminals.
"We have also held the line on taxes. We have held the line on spending," Christie said.
New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the nation.
“Last year, property taxes in New Jersey grew by only 1.7 percent – the lowest rise in two decades,” Christie said.
After the speech, Democratic Assembly Speaker Shelia Oliver suggested the governor look at the bipartisan compromise passed through Congress to raise taxes on the nation's wealthiest household to avoid the fiscal cliff.
"Here in the statehouse we refer to it as the millionaire's tax," Oliver said. "We have been promoting that during the Governor's entire tenure. So if it could work in Washington I don't know why it can't work in this building"
Governor Christie has consistently vetoed the millionaire's tax as being bad for the state's business climate. Currently the state's tax revenues are running several hundred million dollars below projections made by the Christie Administration.
While outlining what his administration has accomplished to help New Jersey recover from Sandy, the governor said he has directed state environmental regulators to streamline approvals for rebuilding roads, bridges and other infrastructure damaged and destroyed by Sandy.
David Pringle with the New Jersey Environmental Federation says he's concerned that the Christie Administration is rushing to re-build without taking into account the possibility of continued storm activity on the scale of Sandy.
"The overwhelming consensus is of scientists is that these kinds od storms are going to occur with increasing frequency and severity. So if we don't learn from lessons of the past we are not only doomed to repeat past mistakes but they will be worse."
Governor Christie has committed to requiring beach front property owners to permit the state to construct sand dunes to protect the coast line from storm surges like Sandy. Historically some beach front property owners have gone to court to fight such construction which they have said obstructs their ocean view.