Governor Christopher Christie had his first full week in office, skipping out on the Chamber trip and nominating Poonam Alaigh as the health commissioner and Marc Larkins to head the School Development Authority. Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) found common ground with Christie by declaring his intent to restart efforts at pension reforms he pushed for back in 2006. And Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange) announced that she will join Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce (R-Parsippany) to co-host a four-hour hearing to hear New Jerseyans concerns.
So how did the state’s new leaders do? We asked three academics to assign them grades. All assigned a grade to Christie, but some felt there was not enough action from (or news on) the legislative leadership to warrant a grade.
Governor Christopher J. Christie
Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute
Comment: His performance on 101.5 Wednesday night showed that he “gets it.” He also held his first cabinet meeting — scheduled during the Chamber of Commerce’s DC train trip — to show that his administration was getting right to work. An interesting point was that MVC and Public Advocate were missing from the table. Some say it’s a sign Christie is going to demote or eliminate those departments. I suspect he’s just running out of ex-prosecutors to appoint to the Cabinet.
Brigid Harrison, professor of political science at Montclair State University
Comment: Christie garners kudos for continuing to shape his persona as a lean-government change agent: He again eschewed the Chamber train; he called the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission to task for their shamefully exorbitant salaries; he vetoed SDA minutes that would have enabled an $18 million change order for the construction of the Burlington City High School. But in some arenas, I would urge more cautious rhetoric: cautioning that “we are broke,” he stated that state money would not be available for hospital bailouts, and threatened that unless Atlantic City were to clean up its act (in the wake of a Corzine-initiated auditor’s report) “it’s very difficult for the State of New Jersey to encourage more growth and more development.” Tough talk is great when it’s directed at sewerage authority CEOs netting more than $300,000 but, when push comes to shove, New Jersey needs a leader who will facilitate our economic recovery.
Nota bene to Gov. Christie: Get on board with Sen. Lesniak’s lawsuit (which his law firm is pursuing pro bono for the state) to overturn the federal ban on sports betting. Not doing so would be a serious blow to the gaming industry, the cornerstone of our travel and tourism industry, which is the second largest industry in the state. Sports betting, legal in several other states, could pump upwards of $100 million in tax revenue into state coffers, and spur increased development (read: jobs) in the Atlantic City.
Peter Woolley, professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University
Grade: A (plus extra credit)
Most of the public will gladly give high marks to leaders who really tackle pension reform. Likewise, using the veto pen to attack cost overruns, as the governor did this week, will be welcome in most quarters. The public wants elected folks to complete the assignments they have given them (though they don’t always reward them for it.) Give Christie extra credit for raising the question of whether the guy who manages sewage for Passaic Valley should really be making twice the salary of the guy who has to clean up the mess in Trenton.
Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney
Comment: In his first significant action as Senate President, Sweeney demonstrates intestinal fortitude by tackling one of the most important and intractable issues in the state: pension reform. Though proposals to roll back the nine percent increase in pensions passed in 2001 and the requirement of having part-time workers enroll in alternate retirement plans will face opposition, public employee unions seem a bit mollified that they have a seat at the policy-making table.
Comment: (see above)
Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver
Comment: Notable this week was Oliver’s role in the bi-partisan initiative to host a public hearing with Republican Assembly minority leader Alex DeCroce that will enable New Jersey residents to tell the legislators directly their ideas for improving the state. But Oliver got flack for the decision not to include the mayors of any coastal South Jersey towns in the Monday Assembly budget hearing in which the several mayors testified about the challenges facing their communities. This was a silly gaffe, but part of the speaker’s job is understanding the importance of parochial cleavages and egos, and this molehill demonstrates the need think broadly as a state leader in decision-making. By the end of the week, South Jersey leaders (and those from the rest of the state) were placated when a League of Municipalities advisory commission was formed.