That unevenness in the New Jersey tax code is a direct result of a major push by Christie to boost business incentives. The state now offers at least five different corporate tax reduction programs, and Christie has awarded some $2.1 billion in subsidies since taking office compared with $1.25 billion in the prior 10 years, according to New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal think tank.
The incentives have helped Christie secure some victories, such as the Realogy corporate headquarters. The firm had reportedly been considering a move out of the state.
And Allergan opened a 93,000 square foot research facility in Bridgewater in September, after reportedly considering locations in California,Pennsylvaniaand North Carolina.
But incentives alone have not been enough to bring New Jersey in line with the national recovery. Unemployment remained above the national average at 8.6 percent in May, and the state's economy was growing at about half the national rate.
Christie vowed to make his broader tax cut proposal a campaign issue after failing to pass a tax credit plan in the latest budget. Opponents argued there was not enough revenue to justify the tax cuts.
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On his campaign website, Christie claims he has already cut "$2.35 billion in job-destroying taxes." And he claims he is making New Jersey more business friendly.
"The Governor has also eliminated hundreds of confusing rules and regulations that put an onerous and unnecessary burden on New Jersey businesses," the site said.
New Jersey does log a solid improvement in our Business Friendliness category for 2013, but still finishes near the bottom at 41st in the category compared with 48th in 2012.
The libertarian Fraser Institute gives New Jersey below average marks for the fairness of its tax system, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform's annual ranking of state lawsuit climates puts New Jersey at 32nd.
New Jersey has a long tradition as a heavily unionized state, and Christie—perhaps bowing to political realities—has been courting many private sector unions in his re-election campaign.
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A heavy union presence tends to work against states in our Workforce category, and Census figures show New Jersey remains among the most unionized states in the nation. But the state finishes a respectable 21st in the category this year compared with 28th last year. The higher than average unemployment rate means more workers are available, and many of them are well-educated and trained. New Jersey workers are among the most educated in the country, according to the Census Bureau.
And speaking of education, New Jersey surges to the No. 1 spot in our Education category for the first time, up from fourth place last year. Class sizes are low, the state generously supports its public schools, and high school test scores are among the best in the country.
For a politically ambitious governor whose state has typically struggled in our Top States rankings, that could be a small silver lining.
—By CNBC's Scott Cohn. Follow him on Twitter @ScottCohnCNBC.