By ANGELA DELLI SANTI and GEOFF MULVIHILL
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) â¿¿ Gov. Chris Christie promised in his annual State of the State address Tuesday that New Jersey will be back stronger than ever after Superstorm Sandy and will do it without returning to the "old ways of wasteful spending and rising taxes."
His speech, which focused on New Jersey's recovery from its most costly natural disaster, was more a pep talk than a blueprint for the state's future, more testimony to the state's grit than policy prescription.
"The state is stronger today than it has been in years," said Christie, whose national reputation has grown since the storm and is mentioned as a possible 2016 presidential candidate. "We are recovering and growing, not declining and descending."The New Jersey-boosting speech came from a governor who has announced a re-election bid for this year. So far, just one prominent Democrat â¿¿ state Sen. Barbara Buono â¿¿ has announced that she's running. Buono said after the speech the governor was right to emphasize the recovery, but not at the expense of the state's sputtering economy. "We need to do more," she said. "The governor needs to do what he hasn't done over his first three years, and that is to come up with a plan to create jobs for people in New Jersey. He's in denial over the jobs situation here. He acts as if the economy was humming along before Superstorm Sandy." Christie gave a rosier vision of the economy, saying unemployment is falling, consumer spending is up and sales of new homes are up while property taxes are rising more slowly. Unemployment in November was 9.6 percent, down from 9.9 percent last summer, but still above the national rate. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who on Monday said Christie "got lucky" because the storm gave him cover for what Sweeney said were Christie's failed economic policies, apologized again for the remark but said he was not backing down from the point that the governor has not done enough to reduce the unemployment, stem the housing foreclosure rate or stabilize property taxes.