TRENTON – Almost all of the pension and benefits reform cards are on the table – almost all.
With Gov. Chris Christie and state Sen. President Steve Sweeney (D-3) anted up, and with the hand of Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34) being tipped on Friday, the last section of the Democratic caucus, the union-backing progressives, must now make their choice: hold ‘em, fold ‘em, walk away, run.
A few of those Dems will get their chance to play a hand this week when the Senate Budget Committee hears Sweeney’s PBR bill on Thursday. In the background, sources said, the howling calls of union members will be heard.
In a scene resembling the recent drama in Wisconsin, labor is said to be swarming the Statehouse on Thursday, while another teachers’ labor group will be visiting on Monday – all of whom will make every attempt to stave off any erosion of collective bargaining rights.
With the bullhorns in full effect, Thursday’s committee vote will also exemplify what State Street Wire has referred to as Trenton’s three-party system: Dem one, Dem two, and the GOP.
Voting against the reforms will be state Sens. Barbara Buono (D-18), Paul Sarlo (D-36), Linda Greenstein (D-14), and probably Sandra Cunningham (D-31), sources said. That’s four Dems against.
Voting for the measure from the Democratic Caucus will be state Sens. Brian Stack (D-33), M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29), Jim Beach (D-6), and Jeff Van Drew (D-1), sources said. That’s four the other way for the Dems.
The GOP has five votes for the PBR bill: state Sens. Tony Bucco (R-25), Mike Doherty (R-23), Kevin O’Toole (R-40), Steve Oroho (R-24), and Joe Pennacchio (R-25).
So that’s nine in favor, four against, according to sources.
The optimists at the Statehouse call it checks and balances and checks. The pessimists aren’t so kind.
So while Oliver pushed her chips forward last week with a sunset provision, sources in the lower chamber said that, whether she gets exactly what she wants or not, the Assembly leader is going forward to support the PBR bill at some point. If she finds opposition to the sunset clause, one source in the Democratic Majority Office said it will come from Christie, not Sweeney. As Oliver sways in between encampments searching for consensus, though, Dem-sharks are beginning to circle the speaker; some are already looking ahead to who her replacement will be, though a change of leadership is nowhere near a sure bet at this point.
Sources said the majority of the Assembly Caucus will oppose the reform even with the sunset clause, which means Oliver would have to break from a longstanding tradition to get the bill passed. For years when they were in power, sources said, Democratic leadership in the Assembly has never moved forward on a bill not supported by a majority of its members. She is willing to, a source close to Assembly leadership said, but she would much rather engage some of the members on the fence and move forward with 15 to 20 colleagues, rather than a minimum of eight.
Oliver’s first real black eye from the PBR saga could come if she breaks tradition, starting to show when/if the bill reaches the Budget Committee in the lower chamber. According to a source, a preliminary headcount has, at best, a 4-4-4 split, same as the Senate, but very possibly could end up a 3-4-5 vote, with more Democrats opposed to the reform than in favor. If that’s the case, the bill will still move, 7-5.
Christie has shifted attention away from the front office for the time being by allowing Sweeney to play the PBR hand – something the governor sorely needed coming off a shaky month of low polling and a helicopter tailspin.
This week expect the chest-thumping Christie to return, even though the Legislature will be picking apart some of his other plans, like they did with the NJN/WNET deal announced last week. The Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee will delve into his decision to pull out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative on Monday. The panel will hear testimony on the withdrawal from RGGI and the potential consequences to the Clean Energy Program.
Christie’s initiative to overhaul Urban Enterprise Zones is also on trial Monday, as the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee reviews a not-yet-introduced bill, A4104, which addresses UEZ funding to qualifying municipalities. They’ll also take a vote on another bill-in-the-making, A4105, which would expand eligibility under the Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit program.
The deadline for appointments to the 12-member Congressional Redistricting Commission comes due on Wednesday, with most of the spots already accounted for.
Rumored targets of the one-man-goes-home process include, in alphabetical order, U.S. Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R), Scott Garrett (R), Rush Holt (D), Leonard Lance (R), Frank Pallone (D), Bill Pascrell (D), Steve Rothman (D), and Jon Runyan (R).
Given the limited space, several of these congressmen may find themselves lacking close representation on the commission.
The congressional hubbub will likely be drowned out by the PBR saga, as years of debate over public worker benefits comes to a head.
Has the deck been stacked in favor of the unions, as Christie claims? Or is this a case of 52-card pickup following a national, economical house of cards coming down? The answers are in the cards this week.