(Adds Christie’s comments beginning in second paragraph.)
Jan. 8 (Bloomberg) -- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican seeking a second term after his response to Hurricane Sandy boosted his approval rating, said the storm hasn’t halted the state’s economic recovery.
“Sandy may have stalled New Jersey’s economy, but there is plenty of evidence that New Jerseyans have not let it stop our turnaround,” Christie, 50, said in his State of the State speech to the Democratic-controlled legislature.
Until Sandy struck on Oct. 29, Christie spent much of his first term pushing to overhaul public education, pensions and benefits, and arguing with Democrats over tax cuts and revenue projections. The superstorm killed 38 New Jerseyans, left 2.7 million residents without power, crippled mass transit and leveled beach towns and boardwalks.
Sandy cost New Jersey more than 8,000 jobs in November, mostly in leisure and hospitality, Christie said. Still, companies are hiring, income-tax receipts were exceeding the administration’s projections prior to Sandy, and there has been an increase in new home sales, consumer spending and industrial production, he said.
“The state is stronger today than it has been in years,” Christie said. “We are recovering and growing. We are not declining and descending.”
Christie’s approval rating jumped to 77 percent after Sandy, from 56 percent before, according to Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind poll. In their survey released Jan. 7, his approval was at 73 percent. Sixty-two percent of Democrats and 80 percent of independents approved of him.
The governor praised President Barack Obama’s response to Sandy ahead of Election Day, angering some Republicans who blamed him for the Democratic incumbent’s win over Mitt Romney. Last week, he attacked fellow Republicans in Congress for delaying a House vote on disaster assistance.
Christie became a national Republican figure with his calls for smaller government and lower taxes. He declined suggestions in October 2011 that he run for president in 2012, saying he couldn’t abandon his commitment to help New Jersey recover from the recession.
The governor used his 2012 State of the State speech to proclaim that an economic “Jersey comeback” had begun, and to call for an income-tax cut. In a Jan. 4 interview, he said the state’s recovery hasn’t petered out, though Sandy slowed it.
“Sandy may have damaged our homes and our infrastructure, but it did not destroy our spirit,” the governor said.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, the state’s highest- ranking Democrat, said yesterday that Christie “prayed and got lucky” that Sandy hit because it deflected attention from his lack of an economic plan. Sweeney, who is considering a run for governor, quickly apologized for the remark.
“We all know the long road ahead for New Jersey as we look to rebuild after Sandy,” Sweeney said. “That does not mean, however, that we can ignore the serious issues that were facing our state before the storm hit.”
New Jersey’s unemployment rate rose in November to 9.6 percent -- the nation’s fourth-highest -- from 9 percent in January, as the U.S. level fell to 7.7 percent from 8.3 percent.
Though the state has added about 75,000 nongovernment jobs since Christie took office, the number of positions declined for five consecutive months through November, and is still down more than 173,000 from the start of 2008 when the recession began, state Labor Department data show.
November revenue missed Christie’s targets by 11 percent after Sandy kept shoppers and Atlantic City gamblers at home. Revenue growth for the fiscal year through November was 0.2 percent. The governor had targeted 7.2 percent annual revenue growth, second only to a 7.7 percent jump projected by California Governor Jerry Brown, according to an analysis by the New Jersey treasurer’s office.
The state had its credit outlook revised to negative from stable in September by Standard & Poor’s, which said Christie’s budget targets were optimistic. Democrats have also challenged his projections, and have blocked his tax cut until they’re convinced that collections will meet targets.
In statements ahead of the governor’s speech, Christie’s office highlighted his 2012 accomplishments, including a teacher-tenure overhaul, restructuring of the state’s higher- education system and expansion of a program to divert nonviolent drug offenders from prison.
An overhaul of retiree benefits signed by Christie will save $120 billion over three decades, according to his office. He also won a 2 percent cap on annual property-tax increases and approved more than $2 billion of business tax breaks.
The speech comes seven weeks before Christie presents his spending plan for the next fiscal year. David Rosen, the legislature’s chief fiscal analyst, said on Jan. 3 that Christie’s current $31.7 billion budget is $700 million short, and that figure could grow to as much as $2 billion if revenue remains little changed through June 30. Christie said last month that mid-year spending cuts may be needed.
The governor has estimated Sandy damage of $36.9 billion, which is bigger than the state’s annual budget.
“Despite the challenges that Sandy presents for our economy, I will not let New Jersey go back to our old ways of wasteful spending and rising taxes,” Christie said.
Christie, who hasn’t ruled out a 2016 presidential bid, scolded Republican U.S. House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to delay a Jan. 1 vote on a $60 billion Sandy aid package, saying it set back New Jersey’s recovery by months. After Christie’s rebuke, Boehner allowed a vote on a first installment of the aid, for $9.7 billion, on Jan. 4 and scheduled a Jan. 15 vote for the remainder.
--Editors: Stacie Sherman, Ted Bunker
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