As speculation continues to mount about the likely slate of 2016 presidential candidates, forces within the business community – a typically Republican constituency – are questioning New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s record of creating a business-friendly climate in his state.  Christie is widely perceived as among the frontrunners for the GOP nomination.

In New Hampshire, Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy President Charlie Arlinghaus, highlighted one of the underpinnings of these concerns about Christie in a recent column which compares New Hampshire’s slide toward  New Jersey’s abysmal anti-business tort climate based on recently released rankings from the American Tort Reform Association:

New Jersey is 32nd in the nation and an example for us of what might happen if we aren’t careful. While we hit the watch list this year, New Jersey (and Atlantic City in particular) regularly shows up of the Judicial Hellhole poster list. More important, their status hurts jobs.
 
In New Hampshire, according to the National Center for State Courts, we have about 4,000 civil cases per 100,000 people. New Jersey almost triples that at 11,000. The impact of that litigation frenzy is predictable.
 
At one time, New Jersey was a very competitive state. Its tax and business climate attracted jobs from its neighbors, as New Hampshire has done in recent decades. Today, the last vestige of that is low gas prices.
The “Judicial Hellholes’’ list Arlinghaus references identifies states that are viewed as having overly litigious legal climates.  New Jersey was ranked 32nd on both the American Tort Reform Association list as well as one compiled by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform, which ranked New Jersey 32nd in the nation for its lawsuit climate. 
 
Critics of Christie’s handling of the state’s business climate point out that the Chamber ranking for 2012 was the same as its 2010 ranking, indicating that Christie has not taken steps to improve conditions since entering office, despite running on a platform that included tort reform in 2009.
 
The question of why Christie has not improved New Jersey’s anti-business tort climate during his tenure as Governor is surely a question that will come up as he campaigns for President in town hall meetings across New Hampshire.   
For his part, Christie has blamed Democrats in the state legislature for the blocking tort reform proposals.  Answering a medical professional’s question at a 2012 town hall meeting, Christie seemingly conceded the issue, saying, “I don’t like to give out false hope…I don’t think you will ever see significant tort reform.’’
 
Critics point to Christie’s historic willingness to take on political opponents on issues he cares about, pointing to the vocal battles with labor unions that have defined his national image.
 
Pro-tort reform groups have long argued that cracking down on the number of lawsuits will create jobs and improve the state’s overall business climate:
 
If New Jersey follows states like Texas and South Carolina in reforming its tort laws, the New Jersey Law Reform Association said, thousands of jobs can be created.
 
According to a study funded by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform, if New Jersey reduced tort activity in its courts, it could reduce litigation spending up to $1.7 billion, and between 35,000 and 94,000 jobs could be created.
Judicial watchdogs point to economic data that supports their charge.  New Jersey’s unemployment rate has remained consistently high under Christie’s tenure and is currently well above the national average at 8.4%.  According to a Bloomberg analysis that aggregates all economic indicators, NJ ranks 45th in the nation.
 
Christie’s ability to garner support from the business community is seen as critical to his ability to secure the Republican presidential nomination, given that social conservatives and Tea Party groups are viewed as more likely to support potential rivals like Rand Paul or Ted Cruz, which has some insiders speculating that he may face tough questions about his record on tort reform and related issues.