(Reuters) - All New Jersey income tax brackets should be cut 10 percent, Governor Chris Christie proposed on Tuesday, saying the state was on the comeback trail due to harsh budget measures taken last year.
The governor, a Republican, in his annual State of the State address also recommended a series of changes in education, including some on teacher tenure and layoff criteria that likely will be opposed by unions.
He also condemned a ruling by the New Jersey’s top court on school funding and called for changes in the criminal justice system, including a ban on bail for violent offenders and mandatory drug treatment programs for non-violent drug users instead of jail.
He called on the top state court to “admit” that its decision requiring poor, often urban schools to get increased funding was “a failure” because pupil performance at those schools has not improved.
Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver criticized Christie’s income tax cut proposal, , saying a family earning $50,000 a year would only get an $80 break while a family earning $1 million a year would reap a $7,200 tax cut.
“A 10 percent across-the-board income tax cut might make a nice sound bite, but ultimately it benefits the wealthiest far more than low and middle income earners,” she said in a statement.
Oliver estimated that Christie’s plan would cost the state $1 billion.
Christie, saying that New Jersey competes with neighboring New York and Connecticut for jobs, noted that both states have raised income taxes on the wealthy. New York’s top rate is 8.82 percent and Connecticut’s highest rate is 6.7 percent, both below New Jersey’s current 8.97 percent rate.
The tough-talking Christie, who has thrown his support behind Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney since deciding to not seek the nomination himself, said that under his leadership, New Jersey is no longer “a punch line” in popular culture. The state became a virtual synonym for sleaze and bad taste with the popularity of the television shows such as “The Sopranos” and “The Jersey Shore.”
On the education front, Christie proposed stiffer requirements for teacher tenure and proposed that layoffs be determined by teachers’ effectiveness rather than by inverse seniority.
“It is unfair to the other 557 school districts and to our state’s taxpayers, who spend more per pupil than almost any state in America,” he said.
In addressing ways to reduce crime in violence-plagued cities such as Newark, Christie, a former U.S. prosecutor, proposed banning bail for violent offenders, a move that could require a change in state law and possibly the state constitution. Christie said such a ban could give witnesses more confidence that they could testify in court without risking their lives.
He called on the Democratic-led legislature to work with him. The governor, who once inflamed tensions by suggesting that the media should “take a bat” to Democratic state Senator Loretta Weinberg, said that “anger is natural and passion is good.”
The governor, who is now considered a possible vice presidential candidate, faulted Washington politicians for not fixing the economy and made it clear where he stood in the national debate over the 1 percent richest and the so-called 99 percent. “The politics of envy have overtaken the imperative of opportunity,” he said.
He recommended fully restoring the earned income tax credit to aid the working poor; the credit was cut in 2010.
Reporting By Joan Gralla; Editing by Leslie Adler