TRENTON – Two sagging creases of flesh cradle the bloodshot eyes of a veteran state senator who looks up glumly and grumbles, “The trouble with the Assembly is that everyone over there has to speak to counter what the other assembly person says. That’s why it takes so damn long.”
An elevator chimes in the hallway and another senator instinctively reaches to vote. He thinks he’s still on the senate floor listening to the machines open.
An aide laughes at him and he doesn’t bother trying to project gravitas.
The lordly members of the Statehouse have been reduced to this as the word circulates that yet another member of the general assembly rises to provide a counterpoint to what his district-mate just said and thereby delay bills they have to read here before they go to the stagnant upper chamber.
There’s a would-be pizza party in the big caucus room upstairs, but it looks more like a college cram-session with senators sprawled in chairs and cliques of people huddled up in shirt sleeves.
Lawmakers who detest one another – rivals, people who cancel one another out – have been handed a long stretch of time in a more or less confined space.
In the outer office of the governor’s chamber, Gov. Chris Christie confers with Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean (R-Westfield) and Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R-Middletown).
Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-Cedar Grove) circulates in the hallway.
The governor projects confidence on the budget as he flips open a box and grabs a slice of pizza while chatting with Kyrillos and Kean. He and his inner circle consider tomahawking Senate President Steve Sweeney’s 2.9 percent cap sometime this morning, a move that would further deteriorate the senate majority.
And there will be no chance to slink away for long after Christie signs the $29.4 billion budget Tuesday at 2 p.m. in Middlesex.
That’s because Christie intends to call everyone back for a Friday-Saturday-Sunday-Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday session to consider his own 2.5% proerty tax cap and toolkit proposal.
His office releases a statement later after both houses pass the budget. The governor won’t ax Sweeney’s cap tonight after the Senate President refuses to present it.
So Christie proclaims victory on the budget passage.
“I am proud that after working with the Legislature we were able to fulfill our commitment to New Jerseyans not to raise taxes, while still closing an unprecedented $11 billion budget gap and protecting our most vulnerable citizens. This budget deals responsibly with the fiscal nightmare we inherited and makes the tough and necessary choices to restore fiscal sanity to our state and begin fundamental reform.
“As difficult as this process was, we are not done – not by a long shot. Without more excuses or further delay, we must move to lock in real, lasting reforms, including a constitutional cap on property taxes without loopholes or exceptions. New Jersey is tired of half measures and empty promises. Now is the time to finish the work we started and give the people a vote in controlling their property taxes.”