Governor Christopher Christie rounded out his cabinet appointments, the assembly leadership held hearings to hear the public’s concerns (even if much of the testimony came from familiar lobbyists and activists), and lawmakers heard about – no surprise – a dire budget forecast, and a new poll came out showing that the public gives Christie a 2-1 approval rating, although a majority haven’t formed an opinion of him yet.
So how did they do? We asked three academics to grade the performance of our state’s three top elected officials.
Governor Christopher J. Christie
Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute
The governor’s first Monmouth U/Gannett NJ Poll grades are positive, but public expectations are high. Good PR this week calling out (and vetoing) examples of waste. However, he painted himself into a corner with his no tolls-no tax pledge. I’m not saying he can’t balance the budget without those options, but he just set the nearly unreachable bar even higher for himself.
Brigid Harrison, professor of political science at Montclair State University
The governor continues to generate positive political will (in most circles) by the taking the problems facing state government by the horns, starting with the independent authorities. He formed an advisory commission to make recommendations on pressing gaming, sports, and entertainment issues — including Xanadu, horse racing, casino regulations, and any deal between the Nets and the Devils. His administration’s continued examination of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Authority and the vetoing of the Delaware River and Bay Authority’s budget comes as part of a larger trend that indicates these and other authorities, often reputed to be bi-partisan wells of patronage, will be targeted by the Christie administration. But Christie also gets kudos for striking the right populist notes on some budgetary matters: there will be no new tolls on our highways (note he didn’t rule out toll increases), and no increases in the gas tax. But facing a now-projected $11 billion deficit in the next fiscal year, we all are wondering what this new leadership means for his proposed budget: his address to a joint session of the legislature will allow us our first glimpse.
Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics
As the Governor continues to channel his inner Howard Beale (the “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore” character from the Oscar-winning movie, Network), he seems to have found the true spirit of the times. Defenders of his most recent targets – the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission, the Sports & Exposition Authority, the Delaware River and Bay Authority, the Schools Development Authority, etc. – are few and far between, and likely to remain that way for the time being. The Governor’s understanding of the Zeitgeist continues to build up his political capital with a cynical public and will help him as he heads in to what will surely be difficult decision-making days ahead.
Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney
The Senate Dems say they are willing to play ball with Christie, but someone forgot to tell Sarlo. Dissent in the ranks already?
It appeared to be a quiet week for the Senate president. His chamber took up the issue of gutting COAH, but this was Sen. Lesniak’s baby. Monies to permanently fund a website enabling the public to see the state’s financial transactions (as created in a Christie Executive Order) was approved in committee. And in what appeared to be a carefully choreographed dance, Sweeney calls for a thorough assessment of gaming industry regulations on Tuesday; on Wednesday, Governor Christie establishes exactly such a committee – though Sweeney’s influence in the North-Jersey dominated group is in doubt. Nonetheless, we’re really hoping these guys can actually work together.
Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver
This grade is shared with Minority Leader DeCroce for the bipartisan public hearing on Tuesday. But there are still some legislators who think the forum was pointless because they already possess such a close relationship with their constituents. Memo to those naysayers: Public trust in the state legislature is at an all time low for a reason. This is exactly the type of action that can serve as a first step on the very long road to restoring that trust. Put your ego aside and get on board.
Signaling both a new leadership style and one of her key strengths of listening, the Assembly speaker, along with other Democrats and Republican leaders hosted a very successful town hall meeting this week, where New Jersey residents could voice their complaints, explain the challenges they’ve faced in dealing with the state bureaucracy, and offer potential solutions to state lawmakers. The town meetings were a refreshing and well-received overture. In addition, the appointment of Assemblyman John Burzichelli to both the newly created Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee and the Governor’s Red Tape Review Group perhaps indicates that the Assembly, under Oliver’s and Joe Cryan’s leadership, might actually have input into the process of reshaping the state’s regulatory environment.