TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivered his final state of the state address Tuesday.
The outgoing governor started his speech with a round of applause for the late Gov. Brendan Byrne.
Christie reflected on where the state was nine years ago, when he announced his candidacy. He described it as “the brink of financial ruin.”
“More people unemployed than at any time in modern history. A culture in Trenton of avoiding the tough decisions, of taxing more, of spending more, of borrowing at a breakneck pace. The highest property taxes in America growing at a record rate,” he said. “We needed tough and plain-spoken leadership to deal with these problems. We needed to care less about being loved and more about being respected. That’s why we ran for Governor.”
Flashing forward to 2018, Christie said he’s proud to announce “the state of our state is very good and – without question – much better than it was eight years ago.”
Christie used his speech to cite a lengthy list of accomplishments during his two terms and to issue a warning that some could come undone.
He touted the halving of the unemployment rate — to about 5 percent — and a sharp drop-off of increases in state property taxes, the nation’s highest. But he warned they could soar again if the Democratic-controlled Legislature and governor don’t extend a cap on salary awards to police and firefighters when contract disputes go to arbitration.
The governor said he was the first governor in America to try to tackle the huge and escalating burden of state pension costs, saying previous governors from both parties and Legislatures “virtually ignored the growing menace of increased costs and no real contributions.” Among the steps taken during his administration was dedicating lottery proceeds to the pension system for the next 30 years.
“Eight years ago, we inherited a state with an unemployment rate nearly 10 percent. In our eight years, that unemployment rate was cut in half,” he said.
He said he vetoed more than $7 billion in spending, helped cut the state workforce, pushed through a cap on property tax increases and, at the same time, made sure the state invested heavily to help protect the New Jersey Shore from the kind of devastation it suffered during Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
“Eight years ago, we inherited a budget that was bloated, out of balance and riddled with gimmicks,” he continued. “Today, budgets have been balanced for eight years in a row.”
Christie’s speech caps his stint as one of America’s best-known governors.
He was on the cover of Time magazine under the headline “The Boss” and a periodic guest on late-night television, where he memorably appeared in a skit about “dad dancing” with Jimmy Fallon and poked fun at his weight by eating a doughnut on David Letterman’s show.
At least in the beginning, he won acclaim for his forthrightness, like when he told beachcombers to “get the hell off the beach” in 2011 during Hurricane Irene. He told it like it was before Trump brought the practice to the White House.
He also was exceedingly popular and widely praised for guiding the state in its recovery from Superstorm Sandy, which ravaged the coastline. He was briefly seen as a top GOP contender for president.
But he was also criticized for testy exchanges with the public during town hall meetings and other encounters.
His popularity and job approval felll sharply, particularly after the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal in which three of his allies were convicted in a political retribution scheme. He also lost the home crowd after spending much of 2015 and early 2016 campaigning for president out of state, a contest he dropped out of after failing to emerge from the back of the pack.
He returned to New Jersey and focused on the state’s — and country’s — opioid addiction crisis after failing to get a top job in the Trump administration. A regular theme in his remarks around the state included “second chances,” and the idea that people can make a comeback.
Christie will be turning over state government control to Democratic Gov.-elect Phil Murphy, who takes office on Jan. 16.
Christie’s two terms come to a close after he first won election in 2009 before cruising to re-election in 2013.
Over eight years, Christie oversaw a pension overhaul, secured a multibillion-dollar transportation program financed by a higher gas tax though offset by other cuts and invested millions of dollars in fighting the opioid crisis.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)