New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will take the stage on Tuesday for his annual—and final—budget address. But don’t expect him to go out quietly. From school funding, to pensions, to his efforts to establish a legacy by combating drug abuse, Christie has a full plate of problems and ambitions he must reconcile with a struggling state budget.
This year’s address will mark the first time in years that Christie’s feet are both (seemingly) squarely in the realm of New Jersey following a failed presidential bid and flirtation with taking a job in the Trump administration. As a lame duck governor nearing the end of his final term, the budget address will be an important step in Christie setting up his final months in office. He is currently widely unpopular in the state with an approval rating of only 18 percent. While his final priorities are unlikely to make a significant change in that regard, this is Christie’s last chance to try. The question is whether the governor still has the political capital to make any of it happen.
Here are some of the main topics Christie may focus on during his Tuesday address:
- School Funding. One of the most hotly debated issues in New Jersey right now is how public schools should be funded moving forward. Some—including Christie—say that the amount per student should be equalized regardless of location based need. Others like Senate President Steve Sweeney favor a plan that reverts the state funding formula back to a constitutional plan to provide all schools full funding without increasing inequity. With school funding such a hot button issue, look for the governor to address concerns on Tuesday and maybe make a final push for his controversial plan.
- Pensions. Christie has gone head to head with unions in recent years due to disagreements over the state’s role in funding employee pensions. On Tuesday, expect Christie to talk about his plans for the pension system and whether or not the state will reach the full annual contribution for the first time in years. For now, state contributions are expected to rise.
- Property Taxes. With New Jersey’s property tax bills at an all time high, it is unlikely that the governor can avoid the soaring costs associated with living in New Jersey. With Christie’s plan for property tax relief closely tying into the school funding plan, expect for the two issues to be heavily conflated during Christie’s address.
- Transportation. Another issue that has captured the attention of New Jersey over the past few years is transportation. Last year, the train crash in Hoboken brought national attention to the need for safety improvements to the rail system. In October 2016, Christie’s administration also successfully levied a controversial 23 cent per gallon gas tax dedicated to the state’s Transportation Trust Fund. Look for the governor to mention infrastructure changes that may be coming down the pike.
- Drug Abuse Prevention/Recovery. Even when Christie was traveling all over the country last year as a Trump surrogate, every time the governor came to the Garden State he made time to discuss addiction and recovery. Earlier this month, Christie signed sweeping legislation mandating six months of substance abuse treatment from insurance companies, limits to opioid prescriptions and requiring increased education for patients and doctors about risk factors involved in prescribing such substances. With his focus solidly on this issue, a large part of Tuesday’s address will likely focus on the state’s role and the importance of such measures. While it is a major focus for Christie, he might get some push back from the legislature. Following Christie’s January State of the State address, Democrats said that while drug abuse prevention is a critical issue, other topics cannot be forgotten due to a singular focus.
Christie will give his final address at 2 p.m. on Tuesday at the New Jersey State House in Trenton.