In his annual State of the State address Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie said that, as he enters his final full year as governor, he believes New Jersey is in good shape with an economy ready to grow and is “now ready to use 2017 to confront problems that still need solving.”
“I stand here prepared to give every ounce of energy I have to make 2017 a year where we solve more big problems for our citizens,” Christie said before the joint Legislature in Trenton.
Hailing it as “game-changing” tax reform for New Jersey’s economy, Christie applauded the phasing out of the state’s estate tax and a drop in the sales tax, both of which came out of a comprehensive deal last year to replenish the Transportation Trust Fund with a 23-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase.
“Imagine that,” Christie said. “Republicans and Democrats coming together to lower taxes for all New Jerseyans. It took seven years to get it done, but we should be proud that taxpayers will get to keep more of their own money in 2017 than they did last year.”
Christie repeatedly juxtaposed the state’s economy during his tenure to the one he inherited from former Gov. Jon Corzine, saying that discretionary spending is down $2.3 billion in actual dollars from where it was nine years ago and that the state’s unemployment rate has dropped by nearly half, from 9.8 percent in 2009 to the 5 percent mark reported last month by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
“While the pundits and prognosticators always see the glass half-empty, for New Jersey families who were out of work in 2010, the glass is fuller,” Christie said. “Much, much fuller as we enter 2017, and we should be proud of the work we have done to make it so for them.”
On pension payments, Christie said this year’s upcoming $1.9 billion payment will hike his administration’s total contribution to $6.3 billion, which he says is twice as much as the contributions made by the last five administrations combined.
“This administration has been, far and away, the most generous to the pension system in the last 23 years,” Christie said.
Christie also proudly noted that his administration has eliminated some 10,000 state government jobs and another 21,000 or so at the county and local levels over the past seven years.
“We promised a smaller government and we have delivered,” Christie said. “In state government, all of this was done without any layoffs. It was all done through effective management and fiscal discipline with the people’s money.”
After briefly touching on other economic talking points such as rising home sales and private-sector job growth, and a quick word on charter school expansion, Christie moved on to the issue of drug addiction treatment, which he spent the bulk of Tuesday’s address discussing.
In an effort to make addiction treatment more effective and accessible, Christie proposed a number of ideas, including the establishment of a one-stop website for addicts to find treatment, more dedicated funding for behavioral health providers, the adjustment of current regulations to allow for state youth treatment centers to also treat 18- and 19-year-olds with added funding, and another $1 million in funding for college housing programs to help students in recovery.
In addition to the creation of a Governor’s Task Force on Drug Abuse Control, which will be led by former Christie Chief Counsel and Schools Development Authority CEO Charles McKenna, the governor added that he will also be instructing state Department of Education Commissioner Kimberly Harrington to develop a curriculum on the dangers of opioids that will begin as early as kindergarten.
Too often, Christie said, the insurance industry “finds a way to say no” to those seeking treatment, prompting the governor to publicly call on legislative leadership to sponsor a new bill in the next 30 days that would mandate that no citizen could be denied coverage for at least the first six months of an inpatient or outpatient drug treatment program.
“Whether your child lives or dies should not be subject to a denial letter from an insurance company,” Christie said. “On behalf of our middle class being attacked by the double whammy of the addiction crisis and denied coverage by our insurance industry, I demand we end this today together.”
While Christie has previously spent a considerable amount of time during his tenure and on the presidential campaign trail dealing with matters pertaining to addiction treatment and prison reform, Tuesday’s centering on these issues was a slight departure from last year’s State of the State address, during which Christie focused more on New Jersey’s “strong” economic recovery and called for an elimination of the estate tax.
“I know this is a very different State of the State address,” Christie said, recognizing how much time he spent discussing addiction treatment. “But when our children are dying in the street, New Jersey should be offended if I came up here and gave a typical political speech. They will be even more offended if we do not act on my plan without delay.”
Christie said that, while he is willing to listen to any additional ideas or strategies on the topic, it is “inaction” that he is “absolutely unwilling to accept.”
“I will not have the blood of addicted New Jerseyans on my hands by waiting to act,” Christie said. “I will not willingly watch another 1,600 of our citizens die and watch their families mourn and suffer. We cannot waste another minute of our time in leadership on the next partisan-fueled fake scandal. While our friends are dying, we cannot permit the worst partisans in this town to lead the discussion towards politically motivated, media sensationalized nonsense. If we don’t reject this conduct by the loudest few, we will be paralyzed by these self-interested actors who care more about the next attack of the day than about truly solving problems affecting New Jersey families.”
Closing with a quote from President John F. Kennedy during his inaugural address emphasizing the need to use public office to help others, Christie signaled that he plans to make drug addiction his signature issue during his final year in Trenton.
“That is what public service is for me and what I will dedicate my final year as governor to for all of New Jersey’s families,” Christie said. “Nothing could personify God’s work here on Earth more than saving lives, each and every life we can save. That mission is my mission over the next 373 days as governor. I hope you will join me in this mission.”