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Senate Dems attack Christie ahead of speech

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With Gov. Chris Christie set to deliver his State of the State address Tuesday, state Senate Democrats on Monday pre-empted the governor with their own assessment of the state.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and other Democratic leaders held a press conference Monday to highlight what they said were the governor's economic failures. Sweeney said the unemployment rate remains higher than the national average, cresting at a 35-year high in August, when the rate hit 9.9 percent. The current rate is 9.6 percent.

"Despite these figures, at no point in the last three years has this governor presented a comprehensive plan to create jobs in this state," Sweeney said in a statement. "In the meantime, the middle class in New Jersey has shrunk and more people are living in poverty."

Sweeney was joined by Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) and Senate President Pro Temp Nia H. Gill (D-Montclair).

Sweeney said Democrats have made recommendations to fix the problem, but they were dismissed for what he deemed partisan reasons.

Christie's speech is scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday. It's the final State of the State before Christie faces voters in his November re-election campaign. The governor has been riding high approval ratings in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, but the storm also put a major dent in the state's revenue numbers and left serious problems for the tourism industry.

The Democrats said New Jersey is also lagging in foreclosures, with 7.7 percent of homes here in some stage of foreclosure.

Gill also criticized Christie for his decision not to set up a state-run health exchange and to not expand Medicaid, another provision of President Barack Obama's healthcare reform legislation.

"New Jersey historically has been at the forefront when it comes to providing access to healthcare and ensuring coverage for our citizens," Gill said. "For the past three years, the governor has taken our state backward."

Christie explained his decision not to set up a healthcare exchange as a consequence of the Obama Administration's refusal to provide key details about the cost and the structure of the exchanges.

Sweeney acknowledged Sandy's consequences for the state economy, but he said the governor doesn't deserve a second chance.

"That does not mean, however, that we can ignore the serious issues that were facing our state before the storm hit," Sweeney said. "Actions always speak louder than words and what people in New Jersey need right now is action on jobs, action on housing and action on those issues that impact women and the most vulnerable."

The Assembly Democrats, led by Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-East Orange) will give their response to Christie's State of the State following Christie's speech on Tuesday.

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