Below is the full text of Gov. Chris Christie’s 2013 State of the State speech, as prepared for delivery.
Lt. Governor Guadagno, Madam Speaker, Mr. President, members of the Legislature, fellow New Jerseyans.
Since George Washington delivered the first State of the Union in New York on this day in 1790, it has been the tradition of executive leaders to report on the condition of the nation and state at the beginning of the legislative year. So it is my honor and pleasure to give you this report on the state of our state.
One year ago, we were scheduled to gather on this second Tuesday in January when our friend and colleague Alex DeCroce passed suddenly the night before, causing us to delay this report. I miss the hard work and kind spirit of Alex. I think of him often, but I am so pleased to see his wife Betty Lou here in this chamber as a duly elected member of the Assembly today. She continues his work and does honor to his memory.
Just three months ago, we were proceeding normally with our lives, getting ready for a national election and the holidays to follow. Then Sandy hit.
Sandy was the worst storm to strike New Jersey in 100 years. 346,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. Nearly 7 million people and 1,000 schools had their power knocked out. 116,000 New Jerseyans were evacuated or displaced from their homes. 41,000 families are still displaced from their homes.
Sandy may have damaged our homes and our infrastructure, but it did not destroy our spirit.
The people of New Jersey have come together as never before. Across party lines. Across ideological lines. Across ages, races and backgrounds. From all parts of our state. Even from out of state. Everyone has come together.
So today, let me start this address with a set of “thank yous” from me on behalf of the great people of this state.
First, I want to thank the brave first responders, National Guard, and emergency management experts who prepared us for this storm and kept us safe in its aftermath.
I want to thank the members of this Legislature for their cooperation in answering Sandy’s challenges and for being by my side as I toured so many of the devastated areas of our state.
I want to thank the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, the Southern Baptists, the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross – who helped us deliver over one million pounds of food and over five million meals and snacks to families who needed them.
They are part of a network of organizations, a family really, who make life better in New Jersey every day – and who really came through when the times were toughest.
I want to thank the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, the state Chamber of Commerce, the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey and the National Federation of Independent Businesses – for keeping us in touch with the needs of small businesses in the wake of the storm, so New Jersey can help get these businesses back on their feet.
I want to thank the 17,000 out-of-state utility workers who came to New Jersey from all over America and joined with 10,000 of our own to get power restored as quickly as possible – so that within nine days of this horrific storm, electric power had been restored to 90 percent of customers.
I want to thank the members of my cabinet and senior staff, who for days before the storm and weeks after it, put their own personal losses aside, worked 18 hours a day and slept very little. They led their departments and their dedicated colleagues in putting the safety and well-being of others ahead of their own.
To everyone who opened their homes, assisted senior citizens, fed their neighbors, counseled the grief-stricken, or pitched in to clear debris, remove sand, or get a school back opened, I say “thank you.” You have helped define New Jersey as a community, one which – when faced with adversity – rolls up its sleeves, gets back to work, and in word and deed shows that it will never, ever give up.
And make no mistake. We will be back, stronger than ever.
The spirit of our New Jersey community was shown in the days immediately after the storm. In Sea Bright, Mary Pat was by the side of one small businessman at the moment when he was allowed to return to his business and see what Sandy had done to his restaurant, a pizzeria. As the plywood was removed, allowing him to see for the very first time the destruction of his means of earning a living, he turned and said without hesitation: “Don’t worry. We will build this back better than it was.”
His words were forceful. They were optimistic. And they were emblematic – capturing the indomitable spirit of this state.
And he was just one example of how New Jersey and its citizens were showing our whole country how to bravely and resolutely deal with a crisis.
Citizens like Frank Smith, Jr., the Volunteer Chief of the Moonachie First Aid Squad. His home was destroyed during the storm. His headquarters were destroyed during the storm. After securing the safety of his three young children, he did not take himself to higher ground. No, he led his team through fires and flood waters, through buildings and trailer parks, and saved over 2,000 lives. Moonachie’s citizens were saved because he put them first. Frank thanks for your bravery.
In Toms River, Marsha Hedgepeth, an emergency room technician, had the day off when Sandy hit her hometown. She could have gotten herself to safety and forgotten about her colleagues at the community medical center and most importantly her patients. Instead, facing several feet of water on her flooded street, she swam to higher ground, then hitchhiked with a utility worker from Michigan and got to the hospital for a 12-hour shift treating her fellow citizens. Swimming through flood waters to save lives – thank you Marsha for setting such a great example.
In Brick, Tracey Keelen and Jay Gehweiler watched as the flood waters consumed their town. Concerned about Jay’s father, they tried to reach him and could not. Not content to wait, they put on their wet suits, got in their row boat and rescued Jay’s dad. In the process, they saw dozens of others stranded in their homes. They turned back around and, one by one, saved over 50 of Jay’s father’s neighbors along with their pets. Then, for those they rescued who had no place to go, they housed them as well. They admitted they did not know these neighbors that well before the storm, but they didn’t care – they put extending a helping hand in a crisis ahead of social comfort. Thank you to Tracey and Jay for saving lives and making a difference.
New Jerseyans are among the toughest, grittiest and most generous people in America. These citizens are a small example of that simple truth. Our pride in our state in our moment of loss and challenge is reflected in the eyes of these extraordinary people.
You see, some things are above politics. Sandy was and is one of those things. These folks stand for the truth of that statement.
We now look forward to what we hope will be quick Congressional action on a full, clean Sandy aid bill – now, next week – and to enactment by the President. We have waited 72 days, seven times longer than victims of Hurricane Katrina waited. One thing I hope everyone now clearly understands – New Jersey, both Republicans and Democrats, will never stand silent when our citizens are being short changed.
The people of New Jersey are in need, not from their own actions but from an act of God that delivered a natural, human, and financial disaster – and we are thankful to the people of America for honoring the tradition of providing relief. We have stood with the citizens of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Iowa, Vermont, California and Missouri in their times of need – now I trust that they will stand with us.
So make no mistake. New Jersey’s spirit has never been stronger. Our resolve never more firm. Our unity never more obvious.
Let there also be no mistake: Much work still lies ahead. Damage that comes only once in a century will take in some cases years to repair.
Here is some of what we have done already:
- We have created a cabinet-level position to coordinate the State’s efforts across every agency – and Marc Ferzan is here today – ready to work with you on this restoration effort.
- We’ve requested the federal government to pay 100 percent of the costs of the significant debris removal that we require – and have already received $18 million for that task.
- We have secured $20 million from the Federal Highway Administration for emergency repair of our roads, bridges and tunnels – a down payment on a major infrastructure task ahead.
- We have directed our Department of Environmental Protection to streamline approvals for restoring critical infrastructure.
- We have overseen the removal of over 2.5 million cubic yards of debris to date and counting. Seventeen towns have already completed debris removal. Over 1,000 trucks are working daily to continue dry land debris removal with 26 more towns moving towards completion. We are now removing debris from our waterways. New Jerseyans need to know – nearly 1,400 vessels were either sunken or abandoned in our waterways during Sandy. In Mantoloking alone, 58 buildings and 8 cars were washed into Barnegat Bay. We will remove this debris and dredge the bay to reduce the risk of flooding and to improve the health of the bay – beginning the very same week that this Administration furthers its commitment to the health of the bay by implementing the toughest fertilizer law in America.
- We have helped get temporary rental assistance for 41,000 New Jersey families, and where necessary, secured transitional shelters in hotels or motels or even in Fort Monmouth.
- We have worked with the Small Business Administration to secure nearly $189 million in loans for thousands of home and small businesses, and through our New Jersey EDA, we have provided lines of credit for businesses awaiting insurance reimbursement, grants for job training, and benefits for displaced workers.
- Our New Jersey DOT has been one of the busiest agencies – removing over 4,400 truckloads of debris from state and local roads, and cleaning another 4,300 truckloads of sand to restore and replenish our beaches.
- Our Department of Education has worked night and day to get schools re-opened right away, and where that wasn’t possible, to get them restored by the next school year – all while maintaining our commitment to a full 180-day school year of education for our kids.
- Executive Order 107 makes sure that when insurance payments do come, they are not compromised by excessive deductibles and ensures that our citizens maximize their reimbursement.