Christie calls for tax cuts, saying state 'comeback has begun'

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Delivering his State of the State speech in front of both chambers of the Legislature and a live television audience, Christie pledged this afternoon to reduce income taxes by 10 percent across the board -- a proposal that got a standing ovation from Republican lawmakers and even a handful of Democrats on the other side of the aisle.

Christie also said he would restore the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor, which he had cut in 2010. He said:

"Understand what this means – every New Jerseyan will get a cut in taxes: The working poor, the struggling middle class, the new college graduates getting their first job. the senior citizens who have already retired, the single mom, the job creators, the parents trying to afford to send their son or daughter to college."

But Democrats, in a press conference immediately after the speech, said the income tax proposal will end up benefitting millionaires and underfunding schools. Someone earning $50,000 a year would save $80.50; a millionaire would save $7,265, Democrats said.

Assemblyman Louis Greenwald (D., Camden) used other numbers. "$275 for a family making $100,000 a year is not a grocery bill for a family of five," he said. "It is constantly on the back of the poor and the middle class and a reward for the wealthy." 

With Camden Mayor Dana Redd sitting in the front row of the balcony, Christie pivoted to inner-city issues and announced a "bail reform package" -- first promised during his campaign -- to keep violent offenders in jail while they await trial instead of allowing them to post bail. Modeled after the federal criminal system, Christie said this might require a constitutional amendment to accomplish.

"We need to reclaim our inner cities," he said.

In addition, Christie said it should be “mandatory” for non-violent drug offenders to be housed in an in-house drug treatment facilities instead of prison. That received a standing ovation from nearly the entire audience.

“I am calling for a transformation of the way we deal with drug abuse and incarceration in every corner of New Jersey," he said.

Christie reiterated his multi-pronged education reform plan to change the tenure system, provide scholarships to students in failing districts and increase pay for teachers with better performance evaluations. There were no new proposals. 

“People are recognizing the New Jersey comeback all over the world,” he said, citing the private companies growing in New Jersey. He cited state data that shows 60,000 new private sector jobs have been added since he came to office.

In a message that could apply to both policy and Christie’s reliance on his loyalty-first brand of politics, he said: “Stand strong with me, and I will stand up for you. We are going in the right direction.”

Christie repeatedly returned to a bi-partisan message -- an acknowledgment of the reality that he is a Republican governor dealing with a Democratic legislature. With Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D., Essex) sitting behind him at the front of the Assembly chambers, Christie referenced how Sweeney cursed him out in July over Christie's budget cuts affecting the most vulnerable.

"Now it doesn’t mean we didn’t shout at each other. It doesn’t mean we didn’t get angry. You may even recall that even some of my friends had some very colorful nicknames for me," he said, turning around to look at Sweeney.

Sweeney smiled and shrugged as the audience applauded.