VOORHEES, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie hit the road and the airwaves Wednesday to sell his proposed across-the-board 10 percent income tax cut to the people, both at home and around the country — and perhaps, position himself for a 2016 presidential bid.
The first-term Republican appeared on two national talk shows, three radio shows and held his first trademark town hall event of the year, portraying himself as the architect of what he has called New Jersey's comeback with a model he suggested should be used nationally.
Christie was the lead interview on NBC's "Today" show Wednesday, and even Matt Lauer had a hard time remembering that Christie wasn't running for, or living in, the White House.
"Let's go to your State of the Union ... State of the State address, excuse me," Lauer said, quickly correcting himself.
While Democratic governors in California, New York and Illinois have raised taxes and targeted high-wage earners with income tax hikes to address a continued fiscal crisis in their states, Christie offered a surprise proposal this week to cut income taxes for all residents. The proposal was a reward, he said, for the shared sacrifices by policymakers and taxpayers to help shore up the state's troubled finances.
It was also in stark contrast to what his potential 2016 rivals, such as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, have done — a point Christie noted often in his speech.
"In this environment, the best way to compete is to show a different direction," Christie said.
Political observers said the move was also intended to cement his credentials as a fiscal conservative who has not only cut spending but also cut taxes in a state where both are high.
"It's often not enough to have controlled taxes or spending. You have to lower taxes to make a robust claim," said Peter Woolley, a political scientist at Fairleigh Dickinson University. "In 2016, any candidate who's been a governor is going to have to say specifically what he's done or what she's done."
Under Christie's plan, a couple with a taxable income of $600,000 would save around $4,000. A family with taxable income of $50,000 would save about $80 a year. However, he also offered to reinstate an earned income tax credit for the working poor, which he cut two years ago as the state faced a record $11 billion budget deficit.
He hasn't said how he will pay for the cut, but is scheduled to outline his entire state budget plan next month.
Christie attributed the state's improved financial health to a variety of steps taken over the past two years, including the addition of private-sector jobs, the reduction of more than 375 government programs, a cap on the allowed annual increase in property taxes, and an overhaul of the state's pension and benefits programs.
But data released Wednesday by the state treasurer's office showed revenue collections had fallen 3.2 percent — or $325 million — short of budget projections during the first half of New Jersey's fiscal year.
The shortfall occurred across all revenue categories, including income and sales taxes. Overall, income tax collections fell 3 percent short of expectations.
Christie's direct appeal to the public seemed to get a warm welcome on Wednesday, as Christie spoke to hundreds of people at the Voorhees Town Center mall in the southern New Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia, where his tax cut plan was welcomed with vigorous applause.
He said people need to pressure lawmakers to move quickly on the cuts to "lock in" the tax breaks.
He likened Democrats' criticism of his plan to a death grip on the taxpayer dollar: "It's like your money is stuck in their cold, dead hands," he said, disputing that the plan would hurt education funding, which he said he would increase.
Democrats applauded the restoration of the earned income tax credit return, but immediately blasted the tax cut plan as a boon for the wealthy and a boondoggle for public schools, which rely in part on the income taxes for funding.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney called it a "B.S. tax cut," and Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald suggested that Christie just offer to cut property taxes — at an average of $7,500 per homeowner, they are the nation's highest — across the board. Democrats also questioned how he was going to pay for the estimated $1 billion in cuts.
On Wednesday he offered to phase-in the cuts over three years, saying it was the "responsible way."
"Let those Democrats stand in the way of people getting their money back," Christie said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
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