TRENTON – It’ll all be about toll hikes and power plants on its face, but deep down this week is about how Democratic lawmakers and the Republican governor are going to work together (or not) following the hostile budget battle.
The wheels came off the budget bus after the Democratic volley forced massive cuts by Gov. Chris Christie – some of which have been, or are being, restored on his terms.
There was a certain amount of choreography expected in the polarized indignation over the budget, but even some Trenton operatives callous to the political drama raised eyebrows when Christie and Sen. President Steve Sweeney took to their corners.
Now the two politicos return to the ring to square off on aid to cities, and the outcome could indicate how deep the wounds are – if there are any wounds to begin with.
Summer in the city
It was excised from the budget because oversight funding was removed, but the $149 million in Transitional Aid is coming back. How it comes back – and how soon – is unknown, but deadlines are approaching.
By next week, cities must inform the Department of Community Affairs that they intend to apply for the distress aid. The applications are due by Sept. 2, and DCA is expected to award the aid by Sept. 9 so that municipal calendar-year budgets can be completed by year’s end.
The only scheduled legislative session in either of the chambers between now and Sept. 9 is a Senate voting session on Aug. 25. The Assembly has no scheduled session.
Both chambers must pass a supplemental appropriation bill restoring the funding at some point, but one source said DCA could award the aid before the money is put back in the budget.
As the political negotiations begin on the aid restoration (and possibly other lingering budget cuts that Democrats are bringing back to the table), some Democratic insiders are preparing for ways to put the governor in check to restore the aid through a budget transfer, rather than a new spending bill, should these negotiations prove fruitless in the short term – at a time when towns can ill-afford the uncertainty. In the long-term, the funding would have to be approved in a bill, but this fallback option is being examined.
Then again, the governor could choose not to make the transfer and simply call out Democrats for negotiating pet project funding while the cities they so proudly represent falter without aid.
One source said towns have already been told by the state to pen in whatever aid is awarded, even if the funding has not been appropriated, to avoid calamity at the municipal level while state-level horse-trading continues.
Normally the appropriation bill would travel through the budget committees first. But the Senate quorum where insiders expected the appropriation bill to be introduced last week was canceled due to a lack of members to open the board.
That means the bill – if it is approved in the near-term – could bypass committees and would be voted on as an emergent item in full session.
Off the grid
A joint session of the Senate and Assembly environmental committees will discuss Christie’s draft Energy Master Plan on Thursday in Toms River.
One of the major points of contention is that the state is rolling back its renewable energy goals from 30 percent, which the green lobby said is attainable, to 22.5 percent, which administration representatives call realistic.
With the discussions about the environment creeping into the master plan vetting, as well as Christie’s shore tour, some enviros are curious as to why the governor has not sounded off on a toothless bill on his desk that would denounce the natural gas drilling technique called fracking. The clock is ticking on the bill, and the fact that Christie kept it on his desk while he celebrated his environmentally-friendly acts at the beach lead some insiders to assume he will not be supporting it.
You’ve been tolled
Another initiative it seems Christie may oppose is the Port Authority toll hikes, although he said he will wait for public input and act in step with N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The public will have eight venues to choose from on Tuesday, when four morning and four evening hearings are scheduled.
The 8 a.m. hearings will be held at Newark Liberty International Airport; the Port Authority Technical Center in Jersey City; Port Ivory in Staten Island; and the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan. The 6 p.m. hearings will be held at the George Washington Bridge Administration Building in Fort Lee; the Holland Tunnel Administration Building in Jersey City; the George Washington Bridge Bus Station in Manhattan; and the John F. Kennedy International Airport in Jamaica, N.Y.