Pension reform passed the senate 36-0. Some of Christie’s cabinet nominees were confirmed, but Bret Schundler’s contentious confirmation hearing was interrupted by a caucus call and put on hold until Monday. And Governor Christopher Christie introduced his plans to soften a business tax hike partly by cutting back unemployment benefits – a plan that legislative leaders instantly dismissed.
So how did the three most powerful elected officials in the state do? Our panel of non-partisan analysts assigned them grades.
Governor Christopher J. Christie
Brigid Harrison, political science professor at Montclair State University
Comment: His actions and proposals — reining in independent authorities, cutting unemployment benefits, cutting state aid to municipalities — are proving controversial. But so far, little opposition has stuck on the Teflon Governor, who continues to get the benefit of the doubt from the public, who may not agree with everything he’s doing, but likes the fact that he’s doing something. The governor needs to make sure he recognizes the short-term squeeze municipalities will face with rampant pre-reform public employee retirements.
Peter Woolley, political science and pollster at Fairleigh Dickinson University
Comment: Clearly many interest group articulators are now articulating their pecuniary displeasures, but the gubernator continues to be on-message and results-oriented.
Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute
Comment; Cutting state authorities’ ability to hire lobbyists strikes the right populist note. Key cabinet members are confirmed with little or no opposition. [Side note: Christie finds a safe haven for ally Bill Baroni, who was given an out on the pension reform vote, but would have suffered the CWA’s wrath anyway if he had run for re-election in 2011.] On the downside, a judicial stay of his COAH executive order makes one wonder why a 90 day freeze was so imperative; cutting unemployment benefits may not fly; and missteps dealing with the press corps – which was also a problem in his campaign organization – are
Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney
Comment: He delivered on pension reform. He worked with the Governor and the Republican leadership to deliver unanimous passage, protecting legislators in his chamber from the political fallout of staring down the unions.
Comment: Consider it a great week when pension reforms are passed (unless it’s your golden goose that’s being cooked).
Comment: Senate passes pension reform with no opposition and confirms a number of key cabinet posts, but holds Bret Schundler over (part two of that hearing should be interesting). Christie’s proposal to cut unemployment benefits finally gives the Dems an issue where they can look like the hero.
Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver
Comment: The ball that is pension reform is now in her court, and the challenge for Oliver and Assembly Leader Joe Cryan is make sure their party is unified, and if they can pull a Sweeney and get unanimous approval, their legislators will be better insulated from any impending political fallout.
Grade: I (Incomplete)
Comment: Postponing imperative things while posturing on peripheral ones is legislative procrastination, and what assemblies do best:
• a ban on texting while operating public transportation (passed 75-0, and the public question is why can’t the MTA, PA, NJT, etc. figure this out themselves?);
• a ban on educators using fraudulent university degrees to swell their salaries (passed 75-0, and the public question should be why can’t educators figure this out themselves?);
• a bill regulating towing of cars parked in a handicapped zone based on one recent incident in New Brunswick (passed 70-3-2, and the question is how do we decide to which citizen complaints we are hyper-responsive?);
• and, not least, grand-standing on complaints about surly toll-collectors (shouldn’t we be surprised there are not more surly toll-takers, and is the important question one of excessive OT pay?).
Comment: Pension reform ball is now in the Assembly’s court. Speaker also suggests that she – along with Majority Leader Cryan, naturally – will come up with their own fix for the unemployment fund that doesn’t cut benefits. The recent hearing on budget issues won’t change anything, but it gave the Dems’ the ability to say they are listening to their core constituencies.