If you lived in a bubble for the last seven years, you could listen to Gov. Chris Christie's speech Tuesday and think that New Jersey is paradise on earth.
It is a land of abundant jobs, low taxes, and justice for the poor, the imprisoned, the addicted. And every day, it's getting better.
"I am a better person and a better governor for having worked with all of you," he told the Democratic legislature at the end of his victory speech. "Let's not quit now - let's work together to make things even better a year from now."
The speech was the governor's most kissy-face ever. He raised the white flag on his nutty school funding plan, one that would have forced massive teacher layoffs in every urban district. He proposed no wrenching spending cuts, and offered no digs at teachers or other public employees. He was...nice.
He offered an agenda without any poison pills for Democrats. He had a few big ideas, but was mostly content to spin his seven years as a string of big successes. It was strange.
"He's the softy here," said Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), his chief nemesis.
Sure, for her, the sugar plumb vision was a bit jarring when placed next to the reality that has made Christie the most unpopular governor since God invented polls.
"He's really been hanging out with Donald Trump too much," she said. "This is a whole alternative reality."
It's a valid point, but to me, a bit harsh. About half of what the governor said struck me as true, and that's not bad by today's standards.
The state's economy is not booming. Job growth only matches the national average, and lags many neighboring states. Incomes are stagnant.
But when Christie took office in 2010, New Jersey had produced almost no net private sector jobs in the prior decade. It was scary. Average is a big improvement.
He took a ton of credit for bringing some fiscal discipline, and again, he was half right. New Jersey would be immensely deeper in the hole if not for the 2010 reforms he championed reducing benefits for public workers. And he has invested more in the pension system than his five predecessors combined, by a long shot.
But the state still can't come close to covering the cost of its promises, and the credit rating has dropped 10 times on Christie's watch. He didn't heal the patient; he just slowed the pace of bleeding.
It went on like that. He has reduced the prison population, diverted more criminal addicts to treatment, and saved lots of lives by making Narcan available to first responders.
But he has not solved the core problem - the massive shortage of treatment slots. The number of addicts admitted to treatment each year has dropped on his watch, even as overdose deaths have soared to more double the national rate.
On balance, he had a respectable first term, and a terrible second term - mainly because he lost interest in us. That's impossible to excuse, and explains why his poll numbers are lower than Richard Nixon's were at the depth.
Still, he's done enough so that you can spin it either way. I'm reminded of the teacher who applied for a job in Tennessee, and was asked if he believed in evolution or creationism: "I can teach it either way," he said.
The big news in the speech was Christie's retreat on school funding. His plan was to give each New Jersey student the same state aid, regardless of the district's ability to pay, or the added challenges faced by teachers in urban districts.
The plan had no prayer from the start, in the Legislature or the courts. It was a silly idea, discarded like a broken toy after it paid no political dividends. It was a cynical stunt.
The governor floated two new ideas that surprised Democrats, and everyone else.
One was to mug Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield and take its cash, a move that will no doubt win sympathy among patients with a gripe against the state's biggest health insurer. Horizon is a strange hybrid, a non-profit that pays its executives Wall Street salaries.
Christie's plan is to raid its reserves, on the premise that it owes the public something for the favored treatment it has received over the years as a non-profit. Democrats were surprised and befuddled, but intrigued by the notion of grabbing free cash, with sources saying the governor was aiming for $300 million.
Horizon, not surprisingly, reacted with horror. And it seems obvious the firm would increase rates to recoup the loss, so this could be nothing more than a tax increase in disguise.Christie on new school funding formula: 100 days. No "stupid" task forces.
The governor also proposed transferring ownership of the state lottery to the pension funds. That would help the funds, but could also deprive the treasury of lottery revenue. Again, Democrats were surprised and baffled.
"It sounds to me like smoke and mirrors," said Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson).
"I'm open to it," said Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester).
In the end, for those keeping score, Christie called off the school funding fight, and didn't pick any fresh ones, at least with Democrats.
He was asked a few months ago how he would handle his final year in office, and he answered with signature bombast. "I'm going to go out the same way I came in: Loud!"
But that's not what we heard Tuesday. We heard Gov. Kissy Face instead. And I'm not sure I can get used to it.
Tom Moran may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (973) 836-4909. Follow him on Twitter @tomamoran. Find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.
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