By Brenda Flanagan
Gov. Chris Christie got a round of applause from a largely Jewish audience after signing a bipartisan bill to prohibit investment of New Jersey pension funds in companies that boycott the Israeli state — a prime trading partner that does $1.3 billion worth of business with New Jersey. He blamed current Mideast turmoil on U.S. diplomatic policies.
“When folks believe that there is space between the U.S. and Israel, it is space where evil people play dangerous games,” he said.
Christie criticized what he called the Obama administration’s failure to be more openly supportive of Israel and said this law sends a different message.
“That unequivocal, unashamed, unapologetic support of Israel is the policy of the state of New Jersey and should be the policy of the United States of America and hopefully will be in the years going forward.
The governor then spent an hour taking questions, primarily about the political gridlock that’s stalled renewal of New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund. Hundreds of construction projects across the state stand idle by executive order, because the fund is broke. Christie said he met with legislative leaders yesterday and negotiations aren’t yet ripe for a serious TTF summit.
“Quite frankly, we’re not at a point where we found a coalescing of points of view on this,” Christie said. “If you’re not close then it makes matters worse to get everybody in the same room and start banging heads. People start to say things that they can’t take back. Feet start to get in hardened cement and then people come out here and say stuff to you that they can’t take back. Let’s not do that.”
An eleventh hour agreement between Christie and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto to raise the gas tax 23 cents in exchange for a one-cent cut in the sales tax went nowhere after Senate President Steve Sweeney said it wouldn’t pass his chamber. Christie blamed Sweeney for the current stalemate, for being unwilling to find alternative tax cuts.
“We’re going to have to cut some more spending. If they’re ready to do that, I’m ready to join in with them,” Christie said.
For now, Sweeney remains committed to “…obtaining the votes needed to approve the bipartisan plan that was approved by the Senate Budget Committee … a superior plan that includes responsible tax cuts the state can afford…”
But Christie appreciated Sweeney’s criticism of the teachers’ union, which rallied for but ultimately did not get the Legislature to put a pension reform question on this November’s ballot. The governor’s long been a critic of NJEA leadership.
“If I were an NJEA member, paying dues? I’d kick all of them out. Because either they are completely ineffective or they’re total liars,” Christie said.
The NJEA called Christie “…one of the least effective and least popular governors in the United States. Near the end of his term, he’s been reduced to name calling and finger pointing because he has no positive record of accomplishment to point to.”
Finally, the governor noted Atlantic City continues to struggle even after getting a $70 million loan from the state.
“I’m hopeful they’ll be able to pull it together because I don’t want to be mayor of Atlantic City. I’m prepared to be if I have to be, but I don’t want to be,” Christie said.
Atlantic City has until the end of October to put together a comprehensive plan to restore fiscal stability. If the city asks for an extension, Christie says, the answer will be no.