In budget address, Christie tackles drug addiction, pensions

Glenn Townes | 3/9/2017, 6:36 a.m.
A surprisingly mostly subdued Gov. Chris Christie delivered his annual and final state budget address in Trenton last week and ...
Chris Christie

A surprisingly mostly subdued Gov. Chris Christie delivered his annual and final state budget address in Trenton last week and set forth strict deadlines to implement his goals to lessen some of the state’s financial woes before he leaves office in less than a year.

Speaking to a packed joint session the Legislature Statehouse, Christie said his main priority for the duration of his term as head of state is to continue to fight the Garden State's drug epidemic. In February, Christie signed overhaul legislation that included provisions to limit opioid prescriptions, mandating six months of substance treatment to patients from insurance companies. Christie said he will establish a permanent fund with insurance company giant Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield to fund various initiatives for drug rehabilitation—with an end of June deadline. “The drug problem in our great state is out of control and we have to do something to combat it,” Christie said. “I'm confident Horizon will embrace this opportunity.”

However, similar to the governor's State of the State address in January, the push to establish a permanent trust fund has been met with some push back from legislators who contend other issues plaguing the state also require immediate attention—most notably pension and other health care obligations. Christie has battled with unions regarding the state's role in funding employee pensions. To his favor and to the ire of thousands of state workers, Christie achieved a bipartisan plan to deal with the state's pension and benefit system debacle.--including increased employee contributions and eliminated cost of living adjustments until the funds were more financially solvent. To that end, Christie said he wants to make $2.5 billion payment into the state pension system next year, using state revenues from the highly profitable state lottery program to the state pension plans. “The reforms are going to save New Jersey's state and local governments $122 billion in the 30 years from 2011 to 2041,” he said. “Five years of fiscal restraint and common sense {during my administration} have led us to significantly smaller government without sacrificing the quality of services we provide.”

Finally, dozens of protesters gathered outside the State House during Christie's hour long speech and besmirched the two term governor's record. “The governor has failed the state of New Jersey and has done nothing to help the poor people of the state who can't pay their out of control property taxes,” said one protester. Christie countered the criticism during his speech by highlighting a larger earned income tax credit for low to moderate income families. He concluded by setting a deadline of 100 days for lawmakers to create a new plan to fund New Jersey's chronically underfunded schools.

“If we can't do it in 100 days, shame on us,” he said.