Chris Christie seeks business as usual as approval rating sinks

Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., delivers his budget address for fiscal year 2015 to the state legislature, February 25, 2014 at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Jeff Zelevansky, Getty Images

Updated at 5:15 p.m. ET

Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., delivered his annual budget address Tuesday, seeking to pivot away from the scandals that have plagued him all year and return to business as usual.

Christie spoke to lawmakers in Trenton, N.J., and called for new pension reforms. The proposed budget includes a $2.25 billion pension payment and avoids any new taxes.

"Not only is [raising taxes] an unfair solution, it isn’t a solution at all," Christie said. "We just can’t raise taxes enough to pay for the exploding costs of public employee pensions and benefits. Not to mention the burden it would place on our already overburdened taxpayers."

  The 40-minute speech did not contain any references to the two controversies swirling around Christie and his administration. He has been accused by state Democrats of knowing about the closure of George Washington Bridge lanes last September. Also, the Democratic mayor of Hoboken has accused him of using Sandy relief funds as political extortion.

A poll released Monday found that the controversies are taking a toll on Christie's public image.

Christie currently has a 50 percent approval rating, according to a Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press survey of New Jerseyans. That's generally a tolerable figure for a second-term governor — especially for a Republican in a Democratic-leaning state like New Jersey. But for Christie, it's 20 points lower than his approval rating one year ago, when residents rallied around him after Superstorm Sandy.

A growing number of voters think Christie is not being completely honest about his role in the bridge scandal: That figure increased by 10 points, now up to 61 percent, in the past month.

And six in 10 voters believe the Christie administration likely used Sandy relief funds to exercise political power over local officials, a claim made by the Democratic mayor of Hoboken, N.J.

Meanwhile, the nation's governors descended on Washington, D.C., over the weekend for the annual National Governors Association meeting. The trip is usually a chance for governors — especially those mulling a presidential bid — to bask in the national spotlight and promote their message.

But Christie, who chairs the Republican Governors Association, shrewdly dodged the press corps during his stay in Washington and didn't answer questions about his scandals back home. He even got out of town one day early, skipping a bipartisan White House dinner to attend his daughter's 18th birthday party.

Democratic governors were happy to fill the void. Appearing on "Face The Nation" on Sunday, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley reminded viewers of the multiple legal probes Christie faces.

"My differences with Chris Christie are many on policy choices," said O'Malley, who is considering a presidential run of his own. "And in terms of the current Justice Department probe and other investigations I'll leave that to the people of New Jersey and the Justice Department to figure out."

  • Marshall Cohen

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