Christie said the state's fiscal situation is improving and other states are now looking to New Jersey as a model. But he promised in his first State of the State speech that he would continue to make tightfisted decisions like the one in October that scrapped an $8.7 billion commuter tunnel.
"I am fighting this fight because we have to be truthful about what we can't afford," Christie said, "whether it is health and pension benefits that are out of line with the rest of the country, or a tunnel we can't pay for."
Republicans applauded the governor while Democrats immediately panned him, saying his first-year budget decisions cater to the wealthy at the expense of low- and middle-income residents.
"Chris Christie's New Jersey is not the New Jersey he promised when he ran for governor," Senate President Stephen Sweeney said after the speech. "Rebates were cut. Seniors have been hurt. The only people to do well in Chris Christie's New Jersey are millionaires."
The Republican governor took credit for enacting a 2 percent property tax cap and passing an austere budget. But he focused the majority of his 38-minute speech on doing away with teacher tenure, closing poor-performing schools and fixing the teetering pension system. Former Washington, D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, who Christie says is a like-minded education reformer, sat next to Christie's wife, Mary Pat, in the front row.
Christie also hinted at the tax breaks he'll propose in his budget speech next month.
He began the speech by leading a moment of silence for victims of the Arizona shooting.