Oct. 5 (Bloomberg) -- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie spurned Republican calls to run for president next year, saying he wants to overhaul his state’s education system and pass tougher ethics laws. He left the door open for 2016.
The former federal prosecutor, who has more than two years remaining in his first term, said yesterday that he couldn’t “walk away” from his commitment to voters.
“New Jersey, whether you like it or not, you’re stuck with me,” Christie, 49, said in a news conference called to end speculation about a presidential run. “There’s a lot more to do here: This state was pretty messed up when I took it over. We’re making great progress toward fixing it, but we’re not there yet.”
Christie turned down the urgings of party fundraisers including Kenneth Langone, the co-founder of Home Depot Inc.; hedge-fund manager Paul Singer and industrialist David Koch. People close to Christie said some members of his party stepped up pressure following stumbles by Texas Governor Rick Perry in a Sept. 22 debate.
Christie said he’ll remain in Trenton to guide his plans for instituting merit pay for teachers, expanding charter schools and making it easier to fire underperforming educators. Both the Senate and the Assembly are controlled by Democrats. While all 120 seats are up for election in November, Christie has said he doesn’t expect Republicans to capture either body.
Christie took office last year after defeating incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine amid voter dissatisfaction over the highest property taxes in the U.S. and a sluggish economy. He cut $10 billion in projected spending on schools, pensions and towns and required public workers to pay more for health care.
Unemployment, Ratings Cut
Unemployment in New Jersey stood at 9.4 percent in August, above the national average of 9.1 percent, and Fitch Ratings on Aug. 17 lowered the state’s general-obligation bond rating by one step to AA-, citing mounting fiscal pressure from pensions and benefits.
Moody’s Investors Service dropped its rating one level, to Aa3, in April, after Standard & Poor’s reduced its grade to AA- in February. The ratings are all fourth-highest.
“In the end, my commitment to this state is what overrode everything else,” Christie told reporters. “I asked for this job, I fought hard to get this job and my job here isn’t done.”
Senator Gerald Cardinale, a Republican from Bergen County who has served in the Legislature since 1980, said Christie has been effective at gaining the support of Democrats, whom he needs to enact his legislation.
“I am glad he made the decision that he did because I agree with him that there is a great deal more for him to do,” Cardinale said in a telephone interview. “He has been able to reach across the aisle and get people from both parties to work with him.”
Pension, Benefits Overhaul
Christie rose to national prominence after securing passage of a pension and benefits overhaul intended to save $120 billion over 30 years by requiring state workers to pay more. Thousands of teachers, government workers and firefighters protested outside the state Capitol. In July 2010, he capped annual increases in local property taxes, the highest in the nation,at 2 percent.
Last month, he jumpstarted a series of town-hall-style public meetings when he called for greater financial disclosures by those in the executive and legislative branches and said he wants to end dual office-holding.
Christie was criticized by One New Jersey, a political- action committee aligned with the Democratic Party, for vetoing an income-tax increase for residents earning at least $1 million, to help balance spending. Christie’s decision to scale- back property tax rebates and cut aid to schools last year left the average homeowner paying about 24 percent more out of pocket, according to the political-action committee.
“Christie finally realized that to run for president, it helps to have been an effective governor,” John Wisniewski, chairman of the state Democratic Party, said in a statement. “On Christie’s watch, our bond rating has been downgraded by two of the bond rating agencies, our unemployment rate remains above the national average and middle-class residents and seniors continue to be squeezed.”
For the past year, Christie had denied plans to make a run for the White House.
“My job here in New Jersey is my ultimate passion,” Christie said yesterday. “I’ve always meant it when I said I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to have this job. I’m doing a job I love, in the state I grew up in, on behalf of some of the toughest and greatest people in this country.”
By leaving the door open for a presidential run in 2016, Christie will still face criticism from Democrats that he’s using the governor’s office to play to Republicans outside the state, said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute of New Jersey Politics at Rider University in Lawrenceville.
Since taking office, Christie has headlined fundraisers in states including New York and Pennsylvania, and built up a wellspring of support in his party as he campaigns for Republicans from Massachusetts to New Mexico. Donors from Florida to Colorado helped drive a 12-fold increase in financing from other states for the New Jersey Republican party this year.
“Democrats will still get mileage out of accusing the governor of running for president and burnishing his national credentials,” Dworkin said.
--Editors: Pete Young, Ted Bunker
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