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Chamber in the News

Christie pushes tax-cut plan in Washington speech to N.J. business advocates

Assemblyman John Wisniewski talks with Senator Loretta Weinberg during the annual New Jersey Chamber of Commerce train ride. - John O'Boyle/The Star-LedgerGov. Assemblyman John Wisniewski talks with Senator Loretta Weinberg during the annual New Jersey Chamber of Commerce train ride. (John O'Boyle/The Star-Ledger)Governor Christie told an audience of state business leaders who traveled to Washington on Thursday that legislative critics of his proposed income tax cut were hypocrites because they had supported fiscally irresponsible budgets before.

He also blasted Democratic legislators for bringing up “social issues” to score political points — a clear reference to same-sex marriage though the governor never used those words — instead of the issues people want “the most.”

“How about saving that until we get everybody back to work in New Jersey?” Christie said, addressing the annual Congressional Dinner hosted by the state Chamber of Commerce.

Overall, Christie’s speech covered themes he raised in his State of the State address earlier this month, including his call for a 10 percent income tax cut to be phased in over three years and his argument that the state was making a comeback from the economic depths of 2009, when he was elected.

He urged the audience to help him keep the state focused on lower spending and taxes instead of other issues he said lawmakers were trying to raise.

“All the other issues ... will cost you,” Christie said.

In a break with tradition, the dinner this year did not include any speeches by members of Congress, and only three of the delegation’s 15 members attended. In past years, the state’s two senators and the dean of the House delegation spoke.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., attended several receptions in the hotel where the travelers were staying but not the dinner. He said he had an early appointment in New Jersey on Friday.

“I don’t quite understand a New Jersey trip to Washington to not hear from any federal officials, in the cause of promoting business and economic opportunity in New Jersey. But it’s their decision,” Menendez said, referring to the chamber.

Former Gov. Brenan Byrne told Menendez he was making a mistake by skipping the dinner, noting later in an interview that the senator faces re-election this year.

“You need 51 percent of the vote,” Byrne said. “You take whatever insults come your way, you take whatever slights you get. But you go forward.”

Every year, the chamber charters an Amtrak train to bring state lawmakers, business executives and lobbyists to the nation’s capital. It’s billed as a chance for business leaders to meet the Congressional delegation and vice versa, so there were questions about the need for such an elaborate trip to hear from the governor.

“With all due respect, the purpose of this event was always to let people hear from their Washington delegation, and to come to Washington to do it,” said Assemblyman Gary Schaer, D-Passaic. “They can hear the governor any time they want.”

But attendees said the trip is just as important for them to meet one another, either on the way down or at numerous receptions before or after the dinner.

Chamber leaders said the speeches were canceled because past attendees said overwhelmingly in a survey that it would make the trip better.

“The delegation quite frankly was never sticking around to really talk to [chamber] members,” said Jeff Scheininger, chairman of the chamber’s board. “But it’s an experiment, and we’re prepared to revisit it after the event.”