Watch the “State of the State”? No thanks. Try this instead.

He looks familiar, doesn't he?
He looks familiar, doesn’t he?

Today, Gov. Chris Christie delivered a “State of the State” address, a worse than meaningless media event that serves only his sinking presidential campaign. It will be subjected to equally meaningless punditry laughingly called “analysis” and predictable “he said, she said” comments from state Democrats, most of whom owe their allegiance, if not to the Republican governor, then to the Democratic bosses who sleep regularly–politically, of course–with the governor. Instead, this site will present a counter statement from  Better Choices for New Jersey, a coalition of progressive groups that are generally ignored by the main-stream media. This will be one of the few news sites where these views are given due exposure.

Hours before Gov. Chris Christie made a rare appearance in New Jersey for his constitutionally mandated State of the State Address, representatives of the Better Choices for New Jersey campaign staged a display outside the Statehouse highlighting the devastating impact their absentee governor’s policies have had on working families. It was the 2nd annual “State of Our State” demonstration convened by New Jersey Working Families and its partners in the Better Choices for New Jersey campaign.

Christie spent just 28% of his time in New Jersey in 2015, and a staggering 261 days out of state. Participants staged a display on the Statehouse steps with signs saying, “Nice of you to drop by, Gov. Here’s what you missed.” Each sign included a fact about New Jersey’s dire straits: out of control corporate subsidies, sluggish job growth, record credit downgrades, stagnant wages, as well as rising tuition and transit fares.

“Chris Christie can spend all the time he wants running for president, but he can’t hide from his failed record as governor,” said Analilia Mejia, executive director of New Jersey Working Families. “Voters across the country need to know the real story about how Christie has spent billions on tax breaks for the wealthy and well-connected while our middle-class has shrunk and the number of New Jerseyans struggling to make ends meet reaches record highs. Our governor may be missing in action, but his wrongheaded policies are a continuing and uninterrupted disaster for New Jersey’s working families.”

When he was recently asked by the Star-Ledger about New Jersey’s many economic troubles, Christie said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about in terms of woes.”

But New Jersey’s economic recovery has been among the slowest in the country, despite the staggering $6 billion in purportedly job-creating subsidies and grants given to multinational corporations like Lockheed Martin, Citigroup, and Prudential by the Christie Administration. New Jersey’s job growth was the 8th slowest in the nation, and leads the country in foreclosures. A record number of New Jerseyans live in poverty, and low-wage workers will enjoy no minimum wage hike this year.

“The governor may think that New Jersey has just ‘one big problem’ to fix, but in reality, the Garden State’s problems are widespread and persistent,” said New Jersey Policy Perspective president Gordon MacInnes. “The state’s economic recovery is one of the slowest in the country, leaving a shrinking middle class and creating undue hardship for the poorest New Jersey residents. And the facts are clear: From transportation to higher education and beyond, New Jersey is failing to invest in the assets that are proven to grow the economy and create broadly shared prosperity.”

Between tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations and the weak economy, New Jersey has been unable to meet its needs or support essential services. Revenue projections have regularly fallen behind the Governor’s inflated expectations, leading to deep cuts to New Jersey public services. Public education has been underfunded by $6 billion, property tax rebates are half of their 2009 levels, and dedicated funding for clean energy and green jobs programs have been raided on a yearly basis. The Governor has even repeatedly raided funding to prevent children from contracting lead poisoning, as 3,000 New Jersey children did in 2015. The Governor also misappropriated $75 million in foreclosure settlement funds that could have been used to address New Jersey’s foreclosure crisis to cover persistent budget deficits.

“Absentee Governor Christie and the rest of New Jersey live in a different State,” said David Pringle, Executive Director of Clean Water Action. “There’s no other explanation for his positions like giving money to Exxon while taking money from kids fighting lead poisoning. The State of the State is such that the legislature really needs to be good not just not as bad as MIA Christie.”

 

The billions in lost revenue to tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy have forced the state to shift costs onto those who can least afford it. Tuition at New Jersey’s state public colleges and universities is up 14% since 2008, and this year New Jersey Transit raised transit fares another 9 percent, making for a more than 30 percent increase since Governor Christie took office.

 

“New Jersey Transit’s funding is in a crisis. Years of neglect, lack of capital funding and ongoing cannibalization of funding by the Christie Administration means the bill is coming due for NJ Transit,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey and co-founder of the NJ For Transit coalition. “Right now, commuters will be on the hook for another massive fare hike, cuts in service and third-rate transit reliability.”

The coalition assembled in front of the Statehouse was diverse, including parents and educators, union workers and activists, and survivors of Superstorm Sandy still waiting for a permanent home three years after the storm. As much as seventy-percent of Sandy survivors who participated in the state’s largest relief program still haven’t found a permanent home.

“In last year’s State of the State address, Sandy survivors were not mentioned, even with so many NJ residents struggling in a failing RREM grant program or dealing with unscrupulous contractors,” said Sandi Mackay, a Sandy survivor and member of the New Jersey Organizing Project. “Now more than three years later, these issues haven’t gone away – but our governor has! He has not been present enough to sign a foreclosure bill that has been on his desk for weeks! We are here to remind him of his broken promises and to do far more to help people get back home soon.”

 

Environmentalists were also out in force, castigating the Governor’s failed record.

“Christie is doing the State of the State Address, but what he is doing to the state is destroying our environment and will go down as the worst environmental Governor in state history. Is he going to talk about how he sold out New Jersey to Exxon and corporate polluters? He has spent 72 percent of the time campaigning in New Hampshire and Iowa. We are surprised that he is even here. Is he lost? Is he on his way to the Morning Joe show? It would be easier for him to do a State of the State in New Hampshire. Given his record, the reason he is in New Hampshire is because he has been a disaster for New Jersey,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of New Jersey Sierra Club.

 

The demonstration was attended by a diverse cross-section of organizations, and included representatives from NJ Working Families, the NJ Council of Churches, the National Organization for Women NJ,  Our Children/Our Schools, the Latino Action Network, Clean Water Action NJ, Food and Water Watch NJ, Sierra Club NJ, Latino Action Network, NJ Communities United, the New Jersey Organizing Project, the Parents Education Organizing Committee, BlueWaveNJ, Hudson County MoveOn, AAUP NJ, AFSCME, CWA, HPAE, Newark Teacher’s Union, NJEA, SEIU State Council and local 32BJ, Council of NJ State College Locals, AFT, UFCW, the Unitarian Society of Ridgewood, and Save Our Schools March.

 

“In his zeal to appeal to conservative voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, Governor Christie has lied about his record and has done nothing to fix New Jersey’s problems,” said Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action. “New Jersey deserves a Governor who believes in New Jersey enough to tackle these problems. Governor Christie should resign today and let someone who is actually wants to do the job take over.”

 

And activists did lay out better choices that the Governor and New Jersey Legislature could and should make to foster broadly shared prosperity.

 

“Better choices for New Jersey will require ending million dollar giveaways to Exxon and other corporations, building a third tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey, restoring Food Stamps and developing Single Payer Healthcare for all,” said Mary Ellen Marino, spokesperson for the Progressive Democrats of America – NJ.

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