By ANGELA DELLI SANTIWOODBRIDGE, N.J. (AP) â¿¿ New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie urged business owners Tuesday to take advantage of grants and training programs to help them get back on their feet after Superstorm Sandy. The governor, who was the keynote speaker at the New Jersey Business and Industry Association's annual public policy forum, told 300 business leaders state and federal aid is in place and more is proposed that is geared specifically to businesses trying to recover from the October storm. "I feel a little like I'm one of those guys on the infomercial," Christie joked to an appreciative crowd, as he detailed the available aid. The U.S. Labor Department has allocated $15.6 million in National Emergency Grants to allow unemployed residents to be hired for post-storm cleanup work, hastening the process, Christie said. "One of the ways people psychologically recover is to see the evidence of the storm leave their communities," Christie said. "If we're going to ask people to recover and have hope for tomorrow, we need to take away the painful reminders of what happened to us from their everyday sight." The $60 billion Sandy relief package President Barack Obama submitted to Congress contains $2 billion in small business grants. The grants â¿¿ $25,000, $50,000 or $75,000 â¿¿ would help pizza parlors, liquor stores and ice cream stands repair damages, perhaps in time for summer, Christie said. The governor said $26 million in grants from the state Labor and Workforce Development Department are for new worker training in post-Sandy jobs that there's a demand for in industries ranging from construction to landscaping to utilities. Christie, who decided to seek re-election because he says he wants to lead the state through the storm rebuilding, sounded a lot like a candidate as he described the post-storm challenges. "This is a moment of the greatest crisis that New Jersey has ever faced, and we've passed it with flying colors so far," Christie said. "Now we stand in front of the greatest challenge New Jersey has ever faced â¿¿ to rebuild the hopes, the dreams, the infrastructure, the homes, the businesses, the livelihoods of our citizens."
Christie got his first potential challenger Tuesday, as Sen. Barbara Buono of Edison announced her candidacy for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.Christie did not mention the minimum wage increase bill that awaits his action, but legislative leaders participating earlier in a panel discussion disagreed over whether the wage should be increased now and whether future increases should be tied to the Consumer Price Index. Sen. Tom Kean Jr., a Republican, said Democrats rejected GOP's compromise that would have increased the wage by about $1 per hour over three years and would not have allowed for automatic yearly increases. The bill on Christie's desk increases the wage to $8.50 per hour, from the current $7.25, and indexes the wage each year through the CPI. Democrats have promised to put the matter on the ballot next November if Christie vetoes the bill, as expected.