Gov. Chris Christie delivered a stinging rebuke to Democratic legislators and called on business leaders to back his agenda at a speech to the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey today.
"Now I've been pretty nice up until this point. That ends today," Christie said to a crowd of 550 at the Crowne Plaza Cherry Hill. "I am tired of them lying to the public and that's what they're doing."
Christie criticized a series of bills introduced by Democratic legislators, including the Residential Foreclosure Transformation Act, sponsored by Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak (D-Union), and a bill establishing a state council for responsible fatherhood, sponsored by Assembly members Troy Singleton (D-Mount Laurel) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Trenton). He said the measures were unfunded and would lead to tax increases.
"Doesn't it sound nice — wouldn't you all like to transform foreclosure?" Christie said, adding, "Hell, I know I would."
He also said the state could help fathers by cutting taxes.
The speech may have prefigured Christie's message to the business community if he decides to run for re-election this year.
Christie cited polls showing that 53 percent of state residents say New Jersey is moving in the right direction, in contrast to 19 percent in October 2009, the month before he was elected.
He also contrasted the state's economy during the eight years of Democratic governors before he took office.
Christie said South Jersey business leaders were among his earliest supporters. "You always make time for old friends and loyal friends who stood by you when times weren't always as promising," Christie said.
He said there were 115 state tax and fee increases during the eight years before he was sworn in, and ridiculed a statement from former Gov. Jon S. Corzine, saying the state was on a "glide path" through the end of the 2010 fiscal year. Christie added that those in the audience who were MF Global investors understand Corzine had a different definition of "glide path," referring to the implosion of the company that Corzine led after leaving office.
He defined himself as a guardian blocking tax increases from the Legislature.
"We said no to tax increases — on principle and also because we've heard from you," Christie said, referring to the challenges for small-business owners of making payroll and of corporate leaders of meeting their financial goals.
"Every year in June they send me a little card with tax increase, and I send it back with a big fat red veto," he said.
Christie said he went "95 percent of the way" in agreeing with Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-West Deptford) on Sweeney's proposal to cut taxes, only to have Democratic legislators say that the state doesn't have enough revenue to cut taxes as part of the budget passed in June.
Christie asked for business support in blunt terms: "You can't count on me doing this by myself. You have to call BS on this."
South Jersey Gas CEO Jeffrey DuBois introduced Christie, pledging that chamber members would continue to work with his administration to create jobs.
"Your leadership has restored confidence in the business community" by rolling back taxes, promoting incentives and restoring common sense to regulations, DuBois said.
Chamber President Debra DiLorenzo was enthusiastic about the speech.
"He keeps coming back to the same message about fiscal responsibility, and that's something our chamber raised a red flag about in 2005," she said, referring to a chamber effort to reduce state spending growth.
Chamber board member Thomas J. Heitzman, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Whitesell Construction, said the governor's speech reflected themes Christie has consistently emphasized.
"The governor is very committed to minimizing New Jersey's tax burden and promoting New Jersey as a favorable environment for existing and new businesses," he said.
Christie criticized Assemblyman and Democratic Budget Officer Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus) for introducing a bill that would allow towns to receive state funding if a large amount of land was used for cemeteries.
Prieto said Christie's attacks on Democrats were misplaced.
"It's not funny, it's kind of sad," Prieto said, noting that the bill hasn't had a hearing. "As a good magician, he's trying to tell you, 'Hey, look over here,' redirecting you from where your focus is."
Prieto added that Christie has come around to Democrats' thinking that tax relief should be focused on property taxes and not income taxes.
Assembly Democratic spokesman Tom Hester Jr. said in a statement that Christie was disregarding residents' interests.
"Based on the governor's comments, he's apparently opposed to enhanced domestic violence protections, improved child safety, protecting the disabled from discrimination, finding jobs for veterans and protecting South Jersey residents from the adverse impacts of dredging," Hester said.