Weekly Advance: Week of July 18

TRENTON – Heeee’s baaa-ack. Gov. Chris Christie is coming home on Sunday and, boy, are his arms tired (from glad-handing Idahoans). What did he bring back for us? No trinkets, just a stern reminder: Get back to work.

Democrats are actually doing more work than the lawmakers generally do in the summer, with lower chamber hearings – tears, tirades, and tsk-tsk-tsk testimony – on the bully budget cuts that Christie submitted before his Western family vacation (complete with governors’ summit and technology conference).

Christie is likely to let the legislators know exactly what he thinks of their political theater, but if he calls a press conference sometime this week, that won’t be what he calls it for.

Maybe it will be for the medical marijuana program, whose fate is entirely uncertain right now. Or education funding that has been dominant in GOP messaging? Or could it be the Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit, which is on Christie’s desk waiting for approval?

He vetoed the bill earlier this year because it contained a 20 percent requirement for low- to moderate-income housing – an impediment to development projects, he said, that provide more than their share of affordable housing. He said nothing higher than 10 percent would do, and waivers must be in place for authorities to override the requirement. This is the big business-friendly helping hand tax credit, something that presumably a Republican would like.

Since May 2010, the state has paid out $394.3 million in credits, according to the N.J. Policy Perspective liberal think-tank, including $102.4 million to Panasonic earlier this year. Who else is on the list of credit-takers? Verizon, Bayer, Novo Nordisk, Church & Dwight, and Campbell Soup.

The city of Newark banked $208 million in credits for projects, and is waiting for the bill to be signed so that prospective business partners can lock-in.

Bill sponsor state Sen. Ray Lesniak, (D-20), Elizabeth, said he met the needs of the Governor’s Office and expects the bill to be signed. But Lesniak said something similar to that with COAH reform as well – and that was vetoed. Stranger things have happened in Trenton.

Whatever the topic that Christie picks to open his week, he will certainly be asked about budget restorations, like Transitional Aid that could keep some cities solvent this year.

How will he respond? No one is sure yet. One thing is clear: Mayors with cities on the Transitional Aid list, send your boxes of chocolates and flowers and such to Gov. Chris Christie, 125 W. State St., Trenton, N.J. 08625.

Budget cut testimony

On Tuesday, the Assembly Budget Committee will hear testimony on budget cut effects to children, and on Thursday, on seniors and nursing homes.

The GOP will argue about the context of the budget and ask where the money will come from, or from what other program do they want to extract funding. This argument is part of  an overarching debate about revenues, projections, and surplus.

For instance, funding for the blind and visually-impaired was cut, but only after careful examination in budget hearings and division head testimony claiming no services are affected and that efficiencies have been increased.

Other issues for Tuesday will play out in favor of the Dems, like the $537,000 slashed for a center for abused children in Essex County. We’ll see if any of the lawmakers want to highlight Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo’s “I got this” in the Star-Ledger last week. A likely outcome: the state agrees to restore one-quarter of the three-quarters funding cut; Joe D and Essex pick up the rest. Most other counties pay for these centers without any state assistance, but Essex has a disproportionate level of need.

On Thursday, seniors and nursing homes will be examined, with AARP and other advocacy groups and experts weighing in.

With Christie still on the road, Acting Gov. Kim Guadagno dropped talking points this week: a doubled homestead credit, an increase to Senior Freeze, PAAD and Senior Gold programs.

“For the Assembly Democrats to continue this series of hearings, shamefully distorting the truth as a way to play up election year politics, is a waste of New Jersey taxpayers’ time and money,” the lieutenant governor said. Guadagno gets to say this because she didn’t hold any Town Hall events in Christie’s stead.

The Democrats said election talk proves Christie is in “panic mode” over his budget cuts. “Yep, the budget indeed funds Senior Freeze and PAAD – thanks to Democrats,” said Assembly Majority spokesman Tom Hester. “The governor initially proposed this year cutting the Senior Freeze program by $25.2 million.”

Ahhhh,  budget  rhetoric. It must be the summer.

  Weekly Advance: Week of July 18