Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie said Tuesday that if elected, he would demand and track results when it came to efforts to redevelop New Jersey cities.
At campaign stops in Plainfield, Trenton and Camden, Christie said he would encourage and support new charter schools, and take steps to improve economic development, fight crime and provide affordable housing.
Christie also took the opportunity to criticize Gov. Jon Corzine for what the Republican said was a failure to make any progress on urban renewal.
"New Jersey's urban areas have lost hundreds of thousands of residents in recent decades and despite billions of dollars being spent on revitalization efforts,'' Christie said. "New Jersey's focus on renewing our urban communities has been unsuccessful.''Christie said he would implement ways to measure progress and enforce accountability when it comes to education, economic development, crime and housing through a system he calls "CityTrak.''
"If a program is working, it will stay in place; if a program isn't working, we'll get rid of it,'' he said. "With the implementation of CityTrak in New Jersey's urban communities, failure will no longer be an option.''
The Christie plan focuses on four areas that he sees need improvement if New Jersey's cities are going to be vibrant communities where parents can raise their family, children can grow up feeling safe and secure, and students graduate school with a quality education and an ability to find a meaningful job in their home city.
"Programs like the Urban Fund and New Jersey Enterprise Zones have been renewed year after year despite the absence of any clear indication that they are actually working,'' Christie said. "Meanwhile, unemployment in our urban cities is nearly 15%, only 40% of students pass the High School Placement Test, on average there are 1,700 violent crimes per year, and more than 22 percent of people live below the poverty line.''
Christie said struggling cities will be measured through systematic data collection, analysis, and heightened accountability. He said CityTrak would go into effect in his first year in office, initially reviewing existing conditions and then measuring progress.
Under Christie's plan CityTrak would combine improvement efforts with data and geographic technology. He said computer mapping and the use of statistics facilitate timely would help target actions while holding all staff accountable for progress in their geographic region. He said CityTrak would track progress in urban areas based on crime, education and economic indicators including housing.
Christie said the CityTrak, idea is modeled after CompStat, a program that was developed by then-New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani who implemented the program to target crime, and monitor quality of life issues.
Christie's urban plan calls for eliminating the charter school waiting list.
"There are thousands of children in the city of Newark alone who are on waiting lists to get into Newark's charter schools,'' he said. "The demand for charter schools substantially outstrips supply and we cannot continue to ration educational opportunity where it is needed the most. We will make it easier to create and maintain charter schools.''
To do that, Christie said he would devote more resources to assist people who are attempting to start new charter schools. He said a Christie administration would encourage and nurture people seeking to start a charter school. He said he would also appoint an education commissioner whose priority would be to approve high-quality charter schools.
"The Department of Education does not see it as part of its mission to encourage and facilitate charter school expansion,'' he said. "In 2008, the Corzine Administration approved only one of twenty-two applications. The Christie DOE will work with applicants to make deficient proposals better.''
Christie said he would also allow children attending chronically failing schools to seek admission to any public school with available space willing to accept them. The entire per-pupil state and federal aid would follow the child to the new school "This 'dollars-follow-the-child' model would encourage low-cost, successful school districts to admit children from failing, high-cost districts,'' he said.
Christie would also create a tuition tax credit scholarship program for low-income students in failing schools. Scholarship recipients would use their scholarship to attend public and non-public schools that agree to admit any applying student and accept the scholarship as payment-in-full. Versions of this initiative have already been introduced in the New Jersey Legislature with bi-partisan sponsorship in the Legislature.
Christie would create economic "super zones'' within cities to attract new private investment and jobs. The zones would combine all incentives – tax breaks, loans and grants. Every existing state and local incentive would be available in the zones.
"If a business or organization wants to invest in our urban communities, we shouldn't be turning them away,'' Christie said. "We shouldn't make those who are willing to make a commitment to turning around our cities jump through hoops to get approved financing. Under the Christie plan, if a project meets certain statutory criteria and that criteria is verified by the appropriate officials, then the financing plan should be automatically entitled to approval without further delays.''
Christie would institute what he describes as reasonable housing policies that encourage new houses or apartment "where rapid growth is most appropriate and desirable – in our revitalized urban areas and transit hubs.'' He said state policy should be aimed at reversing the population drain in urban areas, and fostering growth policies that encourage rapid new population influxes to generate urban renewal.
To attract people to urban communities, new residents would be exempt from paying the state income tax as a way to encourage new market-rate residential housing.
Christie said his urban anti-crime plan would target monitoring, prevention and rehabilitation. He said he would propose a constitutional amendment that would mirror the federal bail laws and permit pre-trial preventive detention based on public safety concerns.
The state constitution provides defendants with the right to bail before conviction, except for capital offenses. Any person accused of a crime in the state courts is permitted to post money or property as a guarantee that the individual will appear at trial. By contrast, in the federal system, prosecutors can ask a judge to detain a defendant between the time he is charged with a crime and the time of trial if the individual is a danger to others or to the community.
Christie said he would also seek new laws to disrupt gang activity, including mandatory minimum sentencing laws for gang-related crimes and tougher penalties for illegal gun possession.
In response to the plan, Gov. Jon Corzine's campaign had harsh words for Christie.
"After mimicking Conservative right-wing governors Sarah Palin and Mark Sanford by opposing $5 billion in much-needed federal economic recovery funds for New Jersey, Chris Christie has no credibility when it comes to economic development, especially in the state's urban centers,'' said Elisabeth Smith, a spokeswoman.
"The fact is that Chris Christie is more concerned with representing the fringe interests of the Republican Party than working with President Obama to create jobs and turn New Jersey's economy around. This latest "plan" shows that Chris Christie has yet to deviate from his campaign strategy of being heavy on rhetoric and light on the substance New Jersey is looking for."
Smith noted that a recent study by the non-partisan state Office of Legislative Services found that Christie's rejection of $5 billion in federal aid, including $2 billion for education, would lead to a $2 billion property tax hike and take away billions of dollars in funding for transportation, healthcare, and job creation.