New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie referred to the George Washington Bridge scandal at the beginning of his State of the State address Tuesday.
“The last week has certainly tested this administration. Mistakes were clearly made. And as a result, we let down the people we are entrusted to serve. I know our citizens deserve better. Much better.
“I am the governor and I am ultimately responsible for all that happens on my watch — both good and bad,” Christie said.
After vowing to cooperate with all “appropriate inquiries” to ensure that this breach of trust does not happen again, the governor launched into an hourlong speech highlighting his administration’s accomplishments, lauding bipartisan achievements and outlining his goals for 2014.
Christie called for more efforts to control property taxes, regional police forces to get more cops on the streets, and education reforms including an extended school day.
But he said that might not be affordable without more changes in the state’s pension system.
“If we do not choose to reduce our soaring pension costs and debt-service costs, we will miss the opportunity to improve the lives of every New Jersey citizen, not just a select few,” Christie said.
He anticipated that the costs will rise by nearly $1 billion in the fiscal year that starts July 1 if action is not taken.
Senate President Steve Sweeney indicated the Legislature, controlled by Democrats, would insist on the state’s pension payment as part of the reforms that require workers to contribute more to the system.
“He laid out new programs to fund, but the funding option being the pension payment, so there wasn’t any real initiatives that are real,” said Sweeney, D-Gloucester.
Christie also called for civil service reform, more shared municipal services by towns, and an end to cash payouts to public employees for unused sick time.
“Property taxes are still too high. So today I ask for you to join me in enacting a new property tax relief initiative that tackles the root causes that are driving up property taxes in the first place,” he said.
Christie’s proposal for a longer school day and longer school year earned him one of the standing ovations that punctuated his address before a joint session of the Legislature.
“These children need more time in school, some of them to catch up, some of them to excel more,” he said. “I believe this is a key step to improve student outcomes and to boost our competitiveness.”
The governor did not offer specifics, saying that he and the state education commissioner would provide details soon.
Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto said the governor’s talking points are difficult to understand.
“He talks about property tax relief and repeatedly we have sent him bills for property tax relief and he has vetoed them,” said Prieto. “He talks about crime prevention. We sent him tons of gun bills. He has vetoed those.”