Chris Christie, the fiery governor of New Jersey, is known for speaking his mind and dealing with the consequences later. But Gov. Christie has some significant achievements that make him a top contender for 2016.
1. Managed Hurricane Sandy effectively
Undoubtedly the largest factor in Gov. Christie’s popularity in recent years is his handling of Hurricane Sandy. Though conservatives bristled at Christie’s embrace of President Obama right before the 2012 election, the governor saw an astounding bump in his approval rating after the disaster. In one poll taken right after Sandy hit, Christie’s approval rating jumped from 56 to 77 percent (though it has since dropped to an all-time low).
Christie’s take-charge attitude was crucial during the crisis in the Northeast. He took a strong leadership role in managing the aftereffects of the disaster and had no trouble winning re-election in 2013.
2. Balanced state budgets for 6 years
Soon after taking office, Gov. Christie made balancing the budget a top priority, a priority he has successfully achieved for six years running. “We did it by cutting spending, shrinking government and fundamentally reforming the way government operates,” Christie said in his State of the State address last January.
Christie has vehemently opposed any tax increases, last year vetoing Democratic proposals to impose a 15-percent tax rate on businesses and increase the individual tax rate on those making over $1 million a year. He also removed millions of extra spending added by Democrats in each budget proposal.
Next year, however, Christie faces a looming fiscal problem, which he will address Tuesday afternoon in a budget speech. Particularly concerning is the state’s transportation trust fund, which will be insolvent by July 1st.
3. Passed landmark teacher tenure and education reform
One of Christie’s defining issues has been passing education reform. With a staunchly Democratic legislature, it’s easier said than done. But in 2012, Christie signed a landmark teacher tenure bill that made it easier to fire bad teachers. Previously, teachers would almost automatically gain tenure after three years, even with poor performance ratings. The new law requires another year of teaching and ratings of “effective” or “highly effective” for at least two of those years.
Christie also cooperated with teachers’ unions and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook to successfully introduce merit pay in Newark schools. Top bonuses of $12,500 were given to teachers rated “highly effective” while teaching difficult subjects in poorly performing schools. Christie has also supported school choice, promoting charter schools whenever possible.
4. Fought for pension reform
In 2011, Christie passed important pension reform legislation that required public employees to contribute more to their pension plans. At the time, he said it was his most important legislative achievement since taking office.
Unfortunately, it won’t be enough. New Jersey is still facing a dire public pension shortfall of $37 billion in unfunded liabilities due to high healthcare costs, expanding enrollment, and lower revenue and contributions than expected. The state’s public pension problem is the fourth worst in the nation, according to Moody’s Investors Service.
Christie is still fighting to solve the problem, appointing a commission to offer suggestions for reform and touring the state discussing the issue. “If we don’t do more and we don’t do it now, we’ll be forced to choose between funding what matters or a bloated, unaffordable entitlement system that we couldn’t muster the will to fix once and for all,” he said last August.
5. Reformed treatment for drug offenders
Although reforming the criminal justice system is a popular topic today, Christie was already on top of it in 2012. His main goal? Finding alternatives to prison for minor drug offenses. All 21 counties of New Jersey currently have “drug courts,” an alternative to prison for drug addicts that include a five-year program of intensive treatment. Participants must routinely check in with judges to ensure adequate progress. In the last decade, drug courts have served more than 12,000 people with an annual cost of 4 times less than housing them in prison, according to The Times of Trenton, New Jersey.
In 2012, Gov. Christie signed a bill to begin a $2.5 million pilot program to expand these drug courts throughout the state. “What we’re dealing with most people here is an addiction, an illness that needs to be treated as such,” he said at the bill signing.