TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Gov. Chris Christie delivered his State of the State address Tuesday afternoon on the eve of his second term.
He may be under a cloud but Christie got a three-minute standing ovation when he entered the Assembly chamber, shaking hands with some of the very people investigating the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal, CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reported.
The governor began his 50-minute speech by again addressing the scandal that has rocked his administration over the past week.
He again took the blame, saying as governor he’s responsible for what happens and said the administration will cooperate with any investigation into the lane closures.
“Mistakes were clearly made. And as a result, we let down the people we were entrusted to serve. I know our citizens deserve better — much better,” Christie said, adding, “I also want to assure the people of New Jersey today that what has occurred does not define us or our state. This Administration and this Legislature will not allow the work that needs to be done to improve the people’s lives in New Jersey to be delayed for any reason. I am the leader of this state and its people and I stand here today proud to be both. I am always determined to do better.”
He went on to say the state of New Jersey is strong and getting better, touting a series of positive economic figures over the past four years.
The governor opened his second term with a call for continued compromise. He said the accomplishments over his first four years — including balancing the budget and pension and tenure reform — were only possible through bipartisan support.
“We acted and we acted together,” said the governor.
But the governor warned if more isn’t done to reduce pension costs, many of his plans for bettering New Jersey in the coming years will not be possible.
“If we do not choose to reduce our soaring pension costs and debt service costs, we will miss the opportunity to improve the lives of every New Jersey citizen, not just a select few,” Christie said.
Christie said that the costs will rise by nearly $1 billion in the 2015 fiscal year that starts July 1 if action is not taken.
He said that’s “$1 billion we can’t spend on education.”
Christie said failure to act soon would put the burden on the middle class.
“We’re sent here to act, let’s not fail to act. Let’s create an attitude of choice,” Christie said.
He did not lay out a specific plan, but the issue is likely to be a centerpiece of his budget proposal next month.
Christie said the state government shrank as more private sector jobs were created.
“In this new year and in the next four years, we need to build on this momentum by creating a new attitude: we need to create an attitude of choice,” Christie said.
The Republican said property taxes are still too high and called on the Legislature to work on a new property tax relief initiative.
The governor also called on the state Legislature to make the 2 percent property tax cap set to expire in April permanent.
Christie said more tax issues will come up when he presents his budget next month.
“Let me tell you one choice we will not make — because it is one answer that will not help grow jobs in our state: and that is raising taxes,” said Christie.
The governor called on lawmakers to end sick leave payouts for government employees. He said it cost the state $880 million.
The governor also called for expanding the school day and the school year, saying education is the key to growth.
Christie said the state spends more than $25 billion a year for public education. That amounts to more than $17,000 a year per student, the most in the nation, said Christie.
“If student achievement is lagging at the exact moment when we need improvement more than ever in order to compete in the world economy, we should take these steps – every possible step – to boost student achievement,” said Christie. “Many of our new initiatives recognize a core feature of modern American life: that the quality of education and the quality of life in our communities are inextricably intertwined. That’s why this year, we need to be more aggressive, and bolder, in fixing our failing schools – and delivering a choice to those for whom today the only option is a bad option: a failing school. This is a moral obligation.”
Some New Jersey voters agreed with the idea, while some did not, CBS 2’s Hazel Sanchez reported.
“I think that seven hours a day is more than plenty for them unless you’re spreading out their activities and time on task, but I think seven hours is more than enough,” said teacher Ana Feijoo.
Christie also outlined his plan to ensure safer communities across the state.
The governor spoke of the fatal carjacking at the Short Hills Mall last month and the arrests of four suspects who all had prior criminal records.
“Almost two years ago, I announced a proposed constitutional amendment to modify the right to bail in New Jersey. The concept is simple: New Jersey courts should have the right to keep dangerous criminals off the streets and in jail until trial,” said the governor. “The federal government allows a violent criminal who is judged by the court to be a danger to the community to be held without bail. New Jersey law does not. This must change.”
The governor called on the Legislature to pass bail reform this year.
The governor said the homicide rate and the crime rate is down across the state, but more work still needs to be done.
He said he backs Democratic State Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s idea that there should be incentives for communities to develop more shared service agreements and regional police forces, like in Camden, that are making it possible for more police officers to be on the street.
Christie also said recovery from Oct. 2012’s Hurricane Sandy continues to progress.
“A year ago this afternoon, our state was in recovery from a challenge not of our own making,” said Christie, in reference to the GWB scandal.
But the governor said the state is coming back from Sandy.
“Despite the magnitude and the devastation of the storm, the one thing we’ve learned in the last year plus is that Sandy could not break our state’s spirit. This past summer, most businesses at the Shore opened on time. Our boardwalks were rebuilt. Many of the crowds came back. And schools that had been damaged were re-opened,” Christie said. “The bottom line is this: we’re a long way from the finish line, but we are also a long way from where we were one year ago. Challenges remain and I will not rest until every person hurt by Sandy has their life back to normal. That is my mission.”
The governor’s speech came as a new poll shows some slippage in his popularity. His 65-percent approval rating has dropped to 59 since the bridge scandal erupted, Kramer reported.
The governor will have another opportunity to win over voters on Jan. 21, when he is inaugurated for a second term.
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