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State Of The State: Nice Rhetoric, No Beef

Governor Christie’s State of the State was long on rhetoric, but short on ideas. It reminded me of that old Wendy’s commercial: “Where’s The Beef?” The governor had a unique opportunity to map out a version for New Jersey moving forward. He failed badly to do so, and as a result, people in New Jersey are no more certain now than they were before of what the future holds.

The governor spent most of his speech discussing the heroic efforts and actions of our first responders and everyday residents during Sandy. Naturally, we all share his pride in our fellow New Jerseyans. But what they need is more than a pat on the back: They need specific answers on how they can move forward with their lives.

People in Sayreville need to know what is going to happen to their homes, which were completely destroyed, yet they still have to pay their mortgage and property taxes. Folks in Moonachie need to know what is going to happen to the municipal infrastructure in town, which was washed away by flood waters.

Most important, what the governor failed to do was present the true state of the state in New Jersey. He gave a bunch of misleading statistics meant to show everyone that the sun is shining in our state, when it is actually raining.

The reality of New Jersey is that we face serious problems that this governor has ignored and will continue to ignore. Middle-class families, women and the working poor have gotten the short end of the stick under this administration. The governor’s speech gave no indication this is going to change anytime soon.

Facts left out

The governor not so conveniently left out several facts in his speech that you are not likely to hear him discuss anytime soon. The state’s unemployment rate is 9.6 percent, nearly two percent above the national average and among the highest it has been in 35 years.

But a more accurate indicator of how poorly this governor is doing on the economy is that our neighboring states are all doing substantially better, and we have the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the country.

You won’t be hearing the governor talk about the fact that the middle class in New Jersey has shrunk by 3 percent, or that the wealth gap in New Jersey between the rich and the poor is the largest it has been since the Great Depression. The rate of growth in personal income in New Jersey has dropped, and we now rank 45th in the nation in that area.

Our poverty rate has increased to 11.4 percent of the population, a figure that has gone up every year under this governor.

You probably also won’t hear the governor talk about the 7 percent of all New Jersey homeowners who are currently in the foreclosure process, a figure representing more than 100,000 people. After the federal government awarded the state $300 million to help keep these people in their homes, the administration essentially sat on the money, using only 10 percent of the funds to help just 750 homeowners. While they sat on those funds, people in New Jersey lost their homes.

It also bears noting that Christie ran for office on a platform of improving New Jersey’s economy. In fact, he specifically attacked then-Gov. Jon Corzine by saying, “I don’t know how, when unemployment continues to go up, that you can say that’s a success.”

Yet, as New Jersey’s unemployment rate continued to skyrocket during 2012, the governor acted as if all was well in the Garden State, using the same rhetoric he attacked his opponent for.

What is perhaps most disturbing though is that after three years in office, this governor has failed to produce a single comprehensive plan to create jobs and grow the economy in New Jersey. When we presented him with a package of more than 30 bipartisan bills, he vetoed nearly all of them. Instead of presenting his own plan, he simply ignored the issue, and has continued to ignore it to this day.

The bottom line

The bottom line is that the governor has willfully ignored working people in this state for three years: their problems are not, and have never been, his problems. His State of the State address did nothing to change that.

The people of New Jersey deserve a leader who is willing to look behind the numbers, like the unemployment rate, and recognize that they are not just numbers – they are people.

Stephen M. Sweeney, D-Gloucester, is state Senate president.