- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 8, 2013

TRENTON, N.J. — Gov. Chris Christie promised in his annual State of the State address Tuesday that New Jersey will be back “stronger than ever” after Superstorm Sandy and will do it without returning to the “old ways of wasteful spending and rising taxes.”

His speech, which focused on New Jersey’s recovery from its most costly natural disaster, was more a pep talk than a blueprint for the state’s future, more testimony to the state’s grit than policy prescription.

“The state is stronger today than it has been in years,” said Mr. 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 New Jersey-boosting speech came from a governor who has announced a re-election bid for this year. So far, just one prominent Democrat — state Sen. Barbara Buono — has announced that she’s running.

Ms. Buono said after the speech the governor 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.”

Mr. Christie gave a rosier vision of the economy, saying unemployment is falling, consumer spending is up and sales of new homes are up while property taxes are rising more slowly.

Unemployment in November was 9.6 percent, down from 9.9 percent last summer, but still higher than the national rate.

In last year’s State of the State speech, Mr. Christie unveiled one measure he said would help with the economy: a 10 percent income tax cut. Mr. Christie took a political blow when that initiative failed even after he agreed with the Democrat-controlled Legislature to switch it to a property tax reduction that lawmakers ultimately decided was unaffordable.

While Mr. Christie talked about avoiding a return to rising taxes, he did not mention any plan to cut taxes.

Mr. Christie also told the stories of several New Jersey residents who helped save others during the October storm, including Tracey Keelen and Jay Gehweiler, who used a row boat to save more than 50 people and their pets in Brick Township. They sat in the audience during the address.

Sitting next to first lady Mary Pat Christie was 9-year-old Ginjer Doherty, whom the governor met soon after storm in Port Monmouth. He repeated the story of how he comforted the girl when she said she was scared after losing her house and belongings, telling her “the adults are in charge.”

“I want to thank her for giving voice to New Jersey’s children during Sandy and helping to create a memory of humanity in a sea of despair,” he said.

Mr. Christie pledged to keep pushing Congress to fund an aid package to help clean up and rebuild the region after Sandy.

Last week, he made waves when he lambasted a fellow Republican, House Speaker John A. Boehner, for delaying a vote on the aid. Mr. Boehner later held a vote on nearly $10 billion to fund the national flood insurance program. It was adopted, and he pledged a vote on the remaining $50 billion next week.

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