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State of the State address: Christie's focus on drug addiction (almost) universally applauded by legislators, business leaders, think tanks

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Gov. Chris Christie gets a hug from his father, Wilbur Christie, before delivering his State of the State address Tuesday.
Gov. Chris Christie gets a hug from his father, Wilbur Christie, before delivering his State of the State address Tuesday. - ()

While Gov. Chris Christie dedicated the majority of his annual State of the State address Tuesday to discussing the issue of drug addiction and the ways his administration plans on fighting back, he also touched on a number of economic items, including what he deemed to be “game-changing” tax reforms and examples of leaner, more cost-effective government under his watch.

Christie also directly called on legislative leadership to sponsor a new bill in the next 30 days that would mandate that no citizen could be denied coverage from their health care provider for at least the first six months of an inpatient or outpatient drug treatment program.

Legislative, business and policy leaders from all corners of the state are now weighing in on what Christie had to say.

Tom Bracken, CEO and president, New Jersey Chamber of Commerce

“The New Jersey Chamber of Commerce applauds Gov. Christie for accomplishing all of the goals he set out in his 2016 State of the State address, including a tax reform package featuring the elimination of the estate tax.

“We also applaud the governor's optimistic outlook for New Jersey's economy in 2017. The governor acknowledged that our state is facing other significant unresolved issues, and the state chamber is ready to work with him and the state Legislature in addressing these issues.

“The governor focused most of his speech on the issue he feels is most pressing in the state today, that being drug addiction. He outlined a comprehensive program to aggressively attack this problem which directly or indirectly impacts a significant number of citizens of New Jersey. We salute the governor for the passion and dedication he is showing on this issue.”

Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean (R-Westfield)

“Few would disagree that the epidemic of drug abuse that plagues New Jersey is among the most pressing issues facing our state. I commend Gov. Christie for choosing such an important forum to highlight the need for a comprehensive state response. We look forward to continuing the bipartisan effort to combat New Jersey’s drug crisis this year, and to advancing other important efforts to rebuild trust in government, create opportunities for residents, and make New Jersey affordable.”

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus)

“This was a different type of speech that we’ve heard from Chris Christie. It was a long speech and, I can tell you, nobody can disagree on the epidemic on drugs that there is. Drug treatment is something we can all rally around, and I think it’s very important. I am proud to work with him on trying to make sure that everybody that has health insurance gets what’s due and not get denied of coverage to be able to get those treatments that are very important. Saying all that, I actually welcome him to join us in making sure on the federal side, that the Affordable Care Act, which actually has expanded to so many more residents of New Jersey … that we make sure that stays in place.”

Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Madison)

"Gov. Christie's speech today hit many honest points that need to be discussed in the open when it comes to addiction. One in particular, his proposal for mandating insurance companies to pay for up to 180 days of inpatient rehabilitation/detox, is exactly what we need to be doing.

"In May, I introduced a bill to expand mandated insurance coverage to up to 90 days in an inpatient facility (A-3743). Knowing where the governor stands on this particular issue gives me hope that we in New Jersey, coming together as one team, can help those with addiction.

"I stand ready to assist with Speaker Prieto and the rest of our legislative leadership to move such a bill as the governor has described and get it to his desk immediately.”

Assemblyman Anthony Bucco (R-Randolph)

“The governor hit the nail on the head today. The accomplishment of cutting taxes and reducing government is enormous, but pales in comparison to the addiction epidemic plaguing our state. We need to help every person and every family we can. It needs to be accessible and worry free. As Gov. Christie said, if you don’t know where to find help, then you can’t get it. I have worked with the governor in the past at Daytop, a statewide drug and alcohol addiction center for teens. The disease of addiction is a tough fight, we have a lot of work to do, but I am proud of the progress we have made.”

Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Voorhees)

“I thought it was an excellent speech. I think his opening, really around a lot of the progress we’ve made on tax fairness that took six years in the making, was really because we were able to get to a bipartisan effort. It was about tax fairness for all people, not just the rich. … To us, this was a key component of the beginning, of what we hope is some real bipartisan effort, and I applaud his focus on this issue of addiction. I think if the work that we were able to do together as Republicans and Democrats to find a pilot program around tax restructuring in New Jersey that was broken, if we can come together to understand that addiction is not a Republican or Democratic issue, it’s not a rich or a poor issue, it’s an issue that can affect any family at any time, it would be a wonderful way for him to spend his last 373 (days) working together as Republicans and Democrats.”

Laurie Ehlbeck, state director, National Federation of Independent Business

“We applaud the governor for tackling one of the most critical issues of our time. His focus today on addiction is no doubt profoundly important to the state of New Jersey. That being said, we are disappointed that today’s remarks stopped short of presenting a broader-scale economic proposal that would impact the small business community.

“Unfortunately, the Garden State remains ranked No. 1 in the nation for residents fleeing to other locations in the country. Without a realistic discussion regarding the economic conditions that taxpayers, including small business owners, face, the rate in which people seek asylum from New Jersey’s economy will only increase. We failed to hear a robust plan to improve our economy or reduce our crippling tax structure.

“Economically, we are stagnant at best, and continuing to do nothing about our ballooning deficit and crushing pension obligations will only make matters worse. Talk of dramatic, bipartisan pension reform can no longer be used simply as catchy campaign slogans for our repeatedly elected state officials. Considering that substantive economic reforms were barely footnotes during today’s remarks, the hope for the small business community is that more will be addressed during this year’s budget address.”

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford)

“It’s actually something I truly believe in. I think it’s the right ting to do. It’s an important issue that he stated as well as you can, there’s too many families that can’t get their loved ones where they need it, and insurance companies are always interfering, looking at their bottom line rather than people. So, if we can get it done in 30 days, I’m going to do everything I can to get it done in 30 days.”

Raymond Castro, senior policy analyst, New Jersey Policy Perspective

"Gov. Christie’s focus on the need to expand substance use disorder treatment in his state of the state address was laudable, but he should have taken the opportunity to publicly oppose proposals by the Republican leadership in Congress to scrap the Medicaid expansion as part of the Affordable Care Act repeal — even though he specifically cited the expansion as essential to his efforts to expand treatment. Some other Republican governors who opted for the Medicaid expansion have already done this. It was the flexibility and guaranteed federal funding in Medicaid that allowed his broad discretion to set benefit and eligibility levels for treatment in the first place.

“Such a recommendation would have been appropriate, given that he urged improvement in the Medicaid law to further expand treatment in residential settings, but he should have added that the entire law is now being threatened in Congress. As one of the first governors to expand the options for substance use disorder treatment in the Medicaid expansion, he has a special interest in protecting it. This policy was so effective, he expanded those options to everyone on Medicaid last year. He failed to mention his $127 million initiative improve mental health and substance use disorder was paid for with nearly all (84 percent) federal Medicaid funds. Unless the Medicaid expansion is maintained, key features of the governor’s proposals will simply not be possible."

Lisa Laitman, director, Rutgers University’s Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program

“We are thrilled to hear that the governor is highlighting this important issue. For many years, we have known that providing special housing in a supportive environment really makes recovery possible for many young people.”

Jeff Tittel, director, New Jersey Sierra Club

“Gov. Christie’s speech was not a ‘State of the State’ because he had no vision for the state. The governor only focused on one single issue, while failing to offer any solutions to the many problems we face, like the environment, climate change and lead in our drinking water. Not only did he fail to address our state’s problems, but he spent most of his time spinning and bragging about what a great job he has done.

“What our governor didn’t mention is that, for the past seven years he has attempted to roll back environmental protections and ruined our economy. While Christie has given out tax cuts to billionaires and billions of dollars in corporate subsidies, jobs are leaving our state, and children are drinking lead poisoned water in our schools. By rolling back environmental protections, increasing development in environmentally sensitive areas, and pushing through damaging pipelines, our governor has threatened our water supply.

“Christie even prided himself on giving out more tax cuts for the wealthy, while cutting back on programs that benefit the middle class. At the same time he has stolen millions of dollars from environmental settlements, which has robbed the people living in communities impacted from pollution. Instead of giving a ‘State of the State’ address, the governor should have just declared an environmental disaster.”

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