Chris Christie

Business Leaders Respond to Governor’s Budget Address at NJBIA Reception

More than 200 business leaders responded favorably to Governor Chris Christie’s budget address yesterday, in which he called for continued work in a bipartisan fashion to move New Jersey forward.

Saying that his administration has put the state’s financial house in order these past six years, the governor called for the continued principles of fiscal restraint and the continuance of the “hard reforms New Jersey needs.” He also said that the proposed constitutional amendments to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and mandate pension payments for state union workers are “economy-killing” proposals.

Christie reported that he has 630 days left in his administration, and asked the legislators in the State House, “Are we going to waste those days on partisanship and politics?”

Gathered at New Jersey Business & Industry headquarters in Trenton to watch the budget address on a large screen at NJBIA’s newly dubbed the “Innovation Zone” and congregating afterwards for a post-budget networking reception at the Wyndham Garden Hotel across the street, here is what various executives said about the governor’s $34.8-billion budget plan:

Michele Siekerka, president and CEO, New Jersey Business & Industry Association:

A balanced budget with realistic growth projections and no tax increases will give businesses more confidence to invest in New Jersey. The governor went out of his way to emphasize his opposition to tax increases and several expensive proposals under consideration now, and he made the connection between high taxes and economic stagnation.

The governor mentioned the results of NJBIA’s Outmigration report and the Business Outlook Survey to discuss why 2 million residents and $18 billion in annual income have left the state over the last 10 year. According to Siekerka:

This NJBIA data is very important because it sends a message that we have some structural deficiencies in the state that, over the last three-plus decades, have caused New Jersey residents to outmigrate. When we marry this with results of the Business Outlook Survey, in which businesses don’t see themselves staying in the state for their future long-term plans, this sends a very strong signal that our policymakers need to pay attention to and look at the policies that are causing this outmigration.

New Jersey is at a pivotal point in its history right now. We have a lot of significant challenges facing us. Our hope is that policymakers will work together from the front office through the statehouse in a bipartisan fashion.

Ralph Albert Thomas, president of the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants:

We represent the folks who work with the numbers.  We want to understand what the real bottom line is in terms of the budget. We certainly believe there is outmigration. The surveys that we have done on outmigration underpin NJBIA’s findings.

Our members are actually counseling and advising their clients to leave New Jersey. The question is, ‘How many people are leaving the state versus coming in?’ That is one number we haven’t put our hands on. I would probably say it does not equate to the number of people that are leaving, and the amount of adjusted gross income and net worth that has been lost.

We have to work on some of the things to minimize the departure. Things can be done.

I will like to see the lawmakers reach out to the stakeholders to touch the pulse of the people they are impacting with these policies.  … Talk to the business owners and talk to the CPAs who represent the business owners.

Senator Thomas Kean, Jr.:

It was an optimistic, focused and strong speech. My hope is that the Democrats in the Legislature will be willing to work on some real long-term solutions, and won’t continue to go down the dead ends they are pursuing now. There are things we need to do now to make the state more affordable. My concern is any measure that mandates increased taxes on people. It will hurt New Jersey over time.

Brian Neuwirth, vice chairman of the boards at NJM Insurance and NJBIA, and president UNIX Manufacturing:

It was good to see the Chris Christie that we knew well. He was energized, and I think he really wants to get things done. From a business point of view, I agree that the pension issue is the big gorilla in the room. I know the Transportation Trust Fund has to be addressed, but Christie is trying to say that [the pension issue] is essential and should be worked out. He really believes this constitutional amendment issue is really not in tune with the economy of today.

Linda Doherty, president and CEO of the New Jersey Food Council:

A lot of people have been asking me this past week, “Is the governor coming back as a lion or lamb?” I think he came back as a lion. He had a fiery presentation talking about his fiscal accomplishments. I think he took some of the other political leaders to task and I think he is ready to get down to business and roll up his sleeves. I think he has motivated a lot of folks to work together and put our fiscal house back in order. So I am encouraged.

I think the business community is going to be very busy. We are going to be engaged and we want to be part of the conversation.

Mike Affuso, senior vice president, director of government relations, New Jersey Bankers Association:

My takeaway is that there is a lot of rhetoric on both sides (Democrats and Republicans). We have significant issues that everybody must figure out together because we are most likely going to see a recession in the next two to three years where our budget revenues will decrease, not increase.  So, we better fix the house while the sun is still shining.

Kathleen Madaris, associate director, Fuel Merchants Association of New Jersey

I thought the governor was realistic. He came back conciliatory. He gave some very sobering numbers and I think he is genuinely ready to reach across the aisle and do it in bipartisan way.

I was encouraged when he finished his speech and shook hands with the Assembly Speaker and Senate President, but more encouraged when he took a couple of minutes to speak with Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg. It seemed like they had a very good conversation. Realistically, we need to work together to get New Jersey to where it should be.

John Crosby, director of government relations, Financial Planning Association of New Jersey:

I thought the tone of the governor’s speech was a little bit more humble than what we have heard in the past. It sounds like a lot of the political aspirations have been put on the back burner and the focus is now on New Jersey, which is a good thing. I think the proverbial olive branch has been extended to the Democratic side of the aisle. I hope that something along those lines will generate some positive activity.

Related Articles: