In his annual budget address to a joint session of the state legislature, Gov. Chris Christie continued his theme of the ‘Jersey Comeback.’
He touted his economic policies, saying that the state had added nearly 60,000 private sector jobs since he took office. “In these last two years, we have begun to move our unemployment rate in the right direction – down, from 10.1 percent when I was sworn in to 9 percent today,” said Christie.
According to the governor, his proposed budget of $32.1 billion for Fiscal Year 2013 is still below the level of state spending since he took office.
Income tax relief was the centerpiece of his speech. “I propose to reduce personal income tax rates, across-the-board, for every New Jerseyan, by 10 percent, and I propose to begin the three-year phase-in of the cut with this budget.”
He tied tax relief with job growth, saying that even with the 10 percent cut, New Jersey’s tax rate would still be higher than New York’s, Connecticut’s and Pennsylvania’s. “Even though a few of these states are making the mistake of trying to catch up by raising tax rates, we need to reverse our competitive disadvantage. In the mid-Atlantic region, New Jersey needs to be the best home for growth.”
For low-income New Jerseyans, he proposed increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit, which was cut in 2010, from 20 percent to 25 percent over the next 2 years.
He said that his 10 percent tax cut plan would keep more money in taxpayers’ pockets, thereby leaving less for Trenton to waste. “We know that the only way to ensure that Trenton politicians will not waste your money is to not send it to them in the first place.”
Since introducing his proposed income tax cut in his State of the State address, the governor has been criticized for focusing on the wrong kind of taxes. The relief that New Jerseyans are in most need of, critics argue, is property tax relief.
In his speech, he said that the 2 percent property tax cap that was enacted is reining in rising property taxes, claiming to have doubled property tax relief over the prior fiscal year in the form of a credit on property tax bills.
On the education front, he proposed the expansion of charters schools and urged lawmakers to pass the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a school voucher plan.
In pushing his education reform agenda, he attacked the NJEA with a reference to recent comments made by the union’s executive director Vincent Giordano. “It’s not enough and it’s not appropriate, to simply tell our most challenged urban families, trapped in over 200 failing schools, that ‘life’s not fair,’” said Christie. “That is the expressed attitude of some in the educational establishment in our state. It is not mine. It can no longer be the attitude of this legislature.”
He thanked legislators for joining him in reforming the pensions and health benefits for public employees and proposed $1.1 billion for the state’s pension contribution.
Another initiative that was first introduced in his State of the State Address is his proposal to establish a $2.5 million mandatory drug treatment program instead of mandatory prison for non-violent offenders. He said he would announce the specifics of the program next week.
As the speech came to a close, he returned to the theme of income tax relief, repeatedly asking “Why not cut income taxes?”