There was no talk of a Jersey comeback, no bold calls for tax cuts. And no raucous applause.
A reserved Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday proposed a $34.4 billion state budget and delivered a dire warning — complete with a line from Gandhi and a cautionary tale about bankruptcy in Detroit — that the state faces fiscal doom without another overhaul of the public workers’ retirement fund.
Christie promised to make the full $2.25 billion pension payment in his spending plan. But he conceded that the pension changes he trumpeted three years ago aren’t doing enough, saying too much of state spending is eaten up by "entitlements."
"With our long-term obligations only set to increase in the coming years, the problem will not go away by itself," Christie told a joint session of the state Legislature. "We cannot wish it away, we cannot make it go away by magic. What we must do is what we were sent here to do by the people, to lead and to act decisively again."
The somber speech matched the mood of the governor whose second term has been marred by the scandal over closure of lanes to the George Washington Bridge and persistent questions about his leadership.
Laboring through the address with none of his trademark chutzpah, Christie proposed a budget that is 4.2 percent bigger than the one he signed last year, relies on revenue growth of 5.8 percent and devotes $9 billion to education — an increase of $36.8 million.
But the address was just as notable for what it left out.
Although Christie has said Hurricane Sandy recovery continues to take up 40 percent of his time, there was no mention of the devastating storm. In stark contrast to the "Jersey Comeback" he heralded two years ago, Christie abandoned the steady drumbeat for a tax cut and made only a passing reference to his "property tax tool kit," which calls for consolidating towns and other changes.
Despite spending much of the speech talking about crippling increases in public employee retirement benefits, Christie offered no proposals.