Christie’s farewell speech: ‘I ran to be a governor of consequence’
TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie capped two terms as governor — and 16 years in the state spotlight if you count his tenure as U.S. attorney — with a glossy look back at his eight years in Trenton in his last and longest State of the State speech Tuesday.
At 86 minutes long, the speech was 14 minutes longer than last year’s and far longer than any of his first six, which topped out at 50 minutes. Nearly all of it was a summary and defense of the last eight years, at times in great detail.
“I ran to be different. I ran to speak bluntly. I ran to shine lights on all of New Jersey’s real problems. I ran to offer tough but achievable solutions. I ran to be a governor who did not just mark time. I ran to win – I always run to win – and I ran to be a governor of consequence,” Christie said.
“I am proud to be here today to tell you that the State of our State is very good and – without question – much better than it was eight years ago,” he said.
Christie shared credit with Democrats who run the Legislature but boasted about what has happened in a number of areas – job growth, vetoes of tax hikes, slower growth of property taxes, higher education restructuring, reviving Camden and Atlantic City, criminal justice reform and more.
“I have loved the job and I am so grateful to all the people of New Jersey for giving me the chance to serve the state where I was born and raised,” Christie said.
Christie said those accomplishments were bipartisan and namechecked South Jersey Democratic boss George Norcross, Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson, and Assemblyman Lou Greenwald, D-Camden, in addition to his family and many current and former staffers.
Democrats, for the most part, chose not to step on Christie’s moment. Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, a frequent foil of the governor, said Christie wrapped things up with grace and elegance.
“For a minute there, I almost thought I was going to miss him,” Weinberg said.
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, who was elected to that post at the reorganization meeting earlier Tuesday, said Christie rightly pointed out the accomplishments were bipartisan.
“What we saw today was a reflection on the best that government can be when they work together to do difficult things and to get things done,” Coughlin said.
Gov.-elect Phil Murphy said Christie “painted a sunny picture of a state in good standing” but that residents “have long known that we’re in a dire state of fiscal crisis.”
Christie in his speech noted that Murphy hasn’t taken a position on whether to renew a 2 percent cap on the salary increases that arbitrators can award in deciding police and fire contracts, which Christie said must happen to prevent property taxes.
But otherwise, Christie offered no critiques in the speech of the Democrat who will succeed him.
“I wish Gov.-elect Murphy and his family every success and every joy that is possible for them over the next four years,” Christie said. “Next Tuesday at noon he’ll be my governor, too. His success will be our success, and I hope for him and our state nothing but blue skies ahead for the next four years.”
Near the end of his speech, Christie focused on the pension fund deficit, which he called the “sword of Damocles” hanging over the head of every New Jerseyan.
He says though workers now pay more into the funds, and the state put in nearly $9 billion in his term, and the lottery is now dedicated to pensions, and contributions are made quarterly, more changes are needed to solve a problem he said was created by Democrats and Republicans alike.
“We still have a big problem to tackle and that problem will only be solved by making these benefits more realistic for both pensions and health insurance,” Christie said.
“Let me assure you that there are not enough taxes to raise or other programs to cut to feed the insatiable beast of public employee pensions and platinum-plus health benefits,” he said. “Let me assure all of you of one other thing: no matter what you do, unless it is complete capitulation, you will be vilified by public union leaders.”
“The choice before you is clear but tough,” Christie said. “Let me advise you: The ‘failure to act’ option is running out of time.”
Sweeney said steps have been taken to put the pension on sounder footing, but he and Coughlin said more can be done. Sweeney noted that Murphy studied the pensions under Gov. Richard Codey and has a financial background.
“I think we’ve got to give Phil a chance to get in the game with us,” Sweeney said. “Phil comes from a world that he understands pensions a great deal, as I do.”