ATLANTIC CITY — Gov. Chris Christie extolled the virtues of raising the gas tax Thursday in a speech to the League of Municipalities convention that at times sounded like a valedictory address ahead of a job offer he says he doesn’t expect to receive.

Christie hadn’t been expected to address the annual Atlantic City confab of municipal officials but did so for the first time in five years. In doing so, he bumped the keynote address by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno — and his defense of the Transportation Trust Fund fix indirectly addressed some of her criticism of it.

“I've been involved in politics in this state for a long time. And everyone's going to play politics with an issue like this,” Christie said. “But this is what second-term governors were invented for. I don't have to run for anything. I don't have to pretend that you can fix this problem without increasing a tax. I don't have to pretend that it's bad policy to dedicate a tax for the very purpose the tax is being paid for.”

After the gas tax increase was passed, but before it was signed, Guadagno said she opposed it. She then spoke against a ballot question dedicating all gas-tax revenues to transportation infrastructure. Voters approved the constitutional amendment, by a closer-than-expected 9 percentage points.

“We need to set aside the politics of this issue, and we need to be honest with each other about it,” Christie said. “And I am very happy that the Senate president, the speaker and the Republican leaders in the Legislature were willing to do that. There will be some who disagree. That is their right. Let them disagree all they like. But when they disagree, make them tell you the ‘or else.’ What will happen if we don't do this?”

Christie said the TTF deal will lead to more than $32 billion in state and federal spending on New Jersey transportation infrastructure projects over the next eight years – and perhaps much more, depending on what happens in Congress under a President Donald Trump, who is calling for infrastructure spending that would seemingly be funded through tax credits for private developers.

“Given the results of the election and the plans of President-elect Trump for an even larger federal infrastructure program, it could permit us to take even more than $32 billion into our infrastructure over the next eight years,” Christie said. “This is a great thing for our state’s economy. It puts people to work. And it will help us to attract even more businesses to the state.”

Whether Christie will be in Washington helping Trump in some capacity remains an open question, one he referenced a few times in his speech.

“I have every intention of serving out my full term as governor. I've said that from the beginning,” Christie said. “And I have no reason to believe as we stand here today that I will do anything other than serve out my full term as governor and turn the keys to the office over to whoever you select in November of 2017 to replace me.”

But that statement had come with a qualifier – “as we stand here today” – and Christie made other statements that acknowledged he isn’t sure what may come next.

“No matter what happens, whether I join a Trump Administration in some capacity, whether I stay here and finish my term and whether 2018 on January 18 is just another day at work in a job in the federal government or whether it's my final day as the servant of the people of the state, I've had a pretty good run,” Christie said of his seven years as U.S. attorney and seven years, so far, as governor.

“Only time will tell. Many of these decisions are solely within our control and some are only partially,” Christie said.

Christie said reporters and prospective candidates for governor in 2017 are more consumed with his Trump job prospects than he is. There’s been speculation tying him to a variety of possible jobs – but uncertainty, too, especially after he was demoted from chairman of Trump’s transition team and many of his allies were bounced from the effort.

“What I've learned over the course of this career is, the old Hebrew saying, 'Men plan; God laughs' – there’s a lot of truth to that,” Christie said.

Christie was among the first establishment Republicans to endorse Trump soon after ending his own presidential bid in February. He helped Trump prepare for debates but cut back his appearances as a surrogate as the campaign unfolded and controversies around Trump peaked.

Christie said he was with Trump on election night watching the returns on television, and he said he was “thrilled that the people of this country made a clear and decisive choice.” Trump is expected to win with 302 electoral votes, though Democrat Hillary Clinton will win the popular vote.

“I hope that you noticed the words that he used on election night. They were his and they were chosen carefully. He wants to unite this country and bring people together,” Christie said.

There have been protests, some of which ended with arrests, after Trump’s win. Christie said citizens “need to respect the voice of the people” and the election results.

“That does not mean silencing yourself on issues that are principal to you and important,” Christie said. “But it does mean that I hope in the next four years we can find a more respectful way to express those differences than have been expressed at times by both sides of the political debate in this country over the last number of years.”

Christie alluded to Democrats’ opposition to President George W. Bush after the 2000 election, which ended with a month-long dispute over the vote in Florida, and Republicans’ years-long opposition to President Barack Obama – not mentioning that Trump for years questioned if Obama is American.

“Seems to me that in the year 2000, we lost the civility in this country. We question the legitimacy of presidents. And now both parties have been guilty of that,” Christie said. “So I would say to you respectfully it's kind of time to declare a truce on that one.”

 

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