New Jersey's Christie steps up demands for Sandy relief

Wed Jan 9, 2013 10:34am EST

1 of 7. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie claps while giving his State of the State address in the assembly chamber in Trenton, New Jersey, January 8, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Carlo Allegri

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(Reuters) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Tuesday renewed his calls to the U.S. Congress to quickly pass the full $60.4 billion Superstorm Sandy relief package, saying victims in New Jersey had been "short-changed."

During his state of the state remarks, Christie, a possible Republican presidential contender for 2016, appealed to lawmakers from eight states that previously received federal disaster funds for other emergencies to act on the legislation for victims of Sandy.

Sandy slammed into the New Jersey coast on October 29, flooding homes, businesses and public infrastructure in New Jersey, New York and throughout the region.

On Friday, Congress approved $9.7 billion in initial relief for victims of Sandy.

A second vote on the remainder of the $60.4 billion aid package is planned for January 15. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, drew harsh criticism for delaying the vote by the Senate.

The original vote would have followed a grueling fight over legislation to avoid sweeping automatic federal tax hikes and spending cuts.

Christie said the storm hurt New Jersey's economy just as it was recovering from the recession. But he said the state was "stronger today than it has been in years."

Christie touted accomplishments made largely by working with the Democrat-led state legislature: balanced budgets, no new taxes, and the creation of 75,000 new private sector jobs, as well as public pension reforms and a new 2 percent property tax cap.

"We are recovering and growing, not declining and descending," he said in prepared remarks.

DEMOCRATS BEG TO DIFFER ON STATE'S ECONOMIC OUTLOOK

Christie's speech did not address the state's unemployment rate -- at 9.6 percent in November, the fourth highest in the nation -- and a growing revenue shortfall.

It drew fire from Democrats, who have painted a gloomier outlook of New Jersey's economy since last year.

Christie proposed an across-the-board state income tax cut last year, but Democrats insisted that it should only be implemented if revenues reached the high level of growth that Christie predicted for fiscal 2013.

They haven't. The state legislature's chief budget officer estimated on January 3 that New Jersey could fall $705 million short of its projected revenue collections for fiscal 2013.

The state is also still in the grip of a foreclosure crisis, with more than 7 percent of New Jersey's mortgaged homes in foreclosure in November, the second highest rate in the nation, according to CoreLogic. Christie took office in January 2010.

Democrats have said that even before Sandy hit, the state's flagging economy had barely budged during Christie's tenure despite his promises of a "New Jersey comeback," a publicity campaign that Christie later allowed to fade away.

"We're very disappointed he did not touch upon other issues that are of interest to the residents of this state," said New Jersey Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver at a news conference.

Christie is not scheduled to present his proposed budget for fiscal 2014 until late-February. The fiscal year begins July 1.

Christie's handling of Sandy boosted his popularity with voters. In the days after the storm, his approval rating was 77 percent, his highest ever, according to Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind poll.

Nearly as many voters -- 73 percent -- approved of the job he is doing in the university's most recent poll results on Monday.

(This story has been corrected to fix spelling of Fairleigh Dickinson University)

(Reporting by Hilary Russ; Editing by Andrew Hay)

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