TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie promised in his annual message to the state that New Jersey will be back "stronger than ever" after Superstorm Sandy, while Democrats criticized the speech as more pep talk than policy prescription for the state's economic ills.
Christie's State of the State address on Tuesday focused on New Jersey's recovery from its most costly natural disaster, a rebuilding effort Christie hopes to lead by winning election to a second term in November.
"The state is stronger today than it has been in years," said Christie, whose national reputation has grown since the storm and is mentioned as a possible 2016 presidential candidate. "We are recovering and growing, not declining and descending."
The only major Democrat to step up to challenge him so far, Sen. Barbara Buono of Metuchen, said afterward that Christie was right to emphasize the recovery, but not at the expense of the state's sputtering economy.
"We need to do more," she said. "The governor needs to do what he hasn't done over his first three years, and that is to come up with a plan to create jobs for people in New Jersey. He's in denial over the jobs situation here. He acts as if the economy was humming along before Superstorm Sandy."
Unemployment in November was 9.6 percent, down from 9.9 percent last summer, but still above the national rate. Property taxes are the highest in the nation, averaging nearly $7,800 per household, and revenue collections have missed the administration's targets for seven consecutive months, raising the prospect of midyear budget cuts.
Christie gave a rosier vision of the economy, saying unemployment is falling, consumer spending is up and sales of new homes are increasing while property taxes are rising more slowly.
A week after lambasting Congress for delaying a vote on a multi-billion-dollar storm aid package, he also pledged to keep pushing for federal cleanup and rebuilding money. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio subsequently held a vote on nearly $10 billion to fund the national flood insurance program — and it was adopted — and pledged a vote on the remaining $50 billion next week.