7 from 9

When Democratic Assembly Representatives Tim Eustace and Connie Wagner joined with seven other lawmakers opposing the higher education reorganization and threatening to withhold support for the budget if the restructuring was not delayed, Assembly staffers seemed unconcerned.

Rumor moved quickly that Eustace and Wagner were the weak links in the coalition and would soon be back in the fold.

Behind the scenes, Democrats had a wedge.  Eustace and Wagner both were relying on the legislature to pass a supplemental appropriation for $10 million to address flooding issues at the Marsellus Street bridge in Garfield.

The bridge was integral to flood control in several towns in Eustace and Wagner’s 38th District.

And according to an email chain between members of the coalition cobbled together by Assemblyman Joe Cryan, Senate President Steve Sweeney did not hesitate to press the lever.

On Wednesday, as the “Cryan 9” prepared to make their stand, Wagner’s chief of staff, Chris Hillman emailed members of the faction to say he had received a call from a Sweeney staffer to say the bridge bill would remain on the Senate board list only if the Assembly agreed to move legislation on for-profit hospitals.

For-profit hospital disclosure is a pet project of Sen. Loretta Weinberg, who Hillman said threw up the roadblock in an effort to bring the stray Assembly members back. 

“Jay Redd called me to say the senate president would not be posting the bridge bill in the senate unless the assembly adds language to the budget regarding for profit hospital disclosure. If you’re not aware, (S)enator Weinberg has made the for-profit issue her little baby. So it appears she has thrown up a blockade.  Redd said that senate president only put up bridge bill to ensure our votes on budget. If they don’t get for profit we don’t get bridge,” Hillman said in the email.

The letter outlining the coalition’s demands for the delay of the higher education restructuring was circulated on Thursday, signed by both Eustace and Wagner, but even then, Democratic sources said, the two were waffling.  By Friday, the coalition was defunct as both Bergen County representatives signed onto the budget, leaving just seven in the Cryan crew.

Reached Monday, Weinberg said she had no comment on internal Bergen County politics, but added no threats were made by her.

A spokesman for the Senate President also had no comment on the email.

Neither Eustace nor Wagner returned calls for comment.

The bridge funding is on both houses’ board lists today as is Weinberg’s for-profit hospital disclosure bill.

The point may be moot as the governor is likely to veto the bridge appropriation.