Weekly Advance: Week of Aug. 29

TRENTON – Day one, post-apocalyptic New Jersey. After the earthquake and the hurricane and the floods, there was only one thing left: Transitional Aid.

The safety of the state and the residents will be foremost when damage assessment begins next week, though the all-but-forgotten $149 million for cash-strapped cities is still missing from the budget.

As far as disasters go, this is a mudslide waiting to happen if the aid isn’t sorted out sooner rather than later. None of the sources who spoke with State Street Wire think the aid will go un-appropriated or that the cities relying on the help will crumble (financially), but the Department of Community Affairs is handing out awards on Sept. 9, so the clock is ticking.

What’s unclear is whether the DCA can award the aid if it has not yet been put in the budget – and there’s no chance it will between now and then – but some sources said that’s exactly what the department will do. The awarded cities and towns will pen funding in the budget and hope that all falls into place in Trenton between Gov. Chris Christie and the Democratic Legislature.

This all started when the lawmakers provoked Christie by removing 1 percent funding for oversight of the Transitional Aid. In turn, Christie cut everything except already-promised aid ($10 million), a response which was, according to some, overkill; but when you poke the giant, it’s on you.

Problem was, the credit agencies didn’t like the missing aid and threatened a negative credit turn. The Dems complained that the cities were going to burn.

The governor traveled, came back, and announced the aid restored…as soon as the Legislature would restore the oversight.

The standstill has continued since. The Senate and Assembly majorities are collaborating on a response of sorts – potentially with further requirements for Christie from the Ds – that would be put on the table in mid- to late-September.

What then? Blitzkrieg bicameral sessions are one option; waiting until the November election is over is another option. But the money will find its way to the budget before Camden and Trenton and Asbury Park file for bankruptcy – at least that’s what the sources said.

The decision on how to proceed will be made primarily depending on parameters for awarding aid without appropriation, but late-summer political posturing as a guidepost seems like a close second.

For the handful of towns that follow a calendar-year budget, hold your breath. This could get dicey.

Another charter stall

The Senate was prepared to fast-track legislation for non-public school conversion to charter last week, but bailed on forcibly passing the law through committee and the floor in one day. They opted instead for a prolonged examination that will likely include the Senate Education Committee, which was bypassed in an attempt to polish off the bill this week.

The Assembly approved it with amendments months ago, but the Senate sat on the bill after it was assigned to the Education Committee.

There has been some other talk about moving education reform measures before the end of the year in the lame-duck session; so this bill’s pre-election ascension was curious to some Senate Democrats, as was the mid-summer voting session called for last week that included such important bills as… (Uh?)

The Higher Ed edification

Senate and Assembly leadership sent the governor a letter last week, according to a Statehouse source, which explained the process for overhauling the Commission on Higher Education. Of note and contrary to Christie’s plans, the commission changes must come from the Legislature, the Dems said.

This would reroute the governor’s facelift plan for Higher Ed right into the wolves’ den, and most likely push back the effective date as hearings and votes draw out.

But, hey, in a post-apocalyptic New Jersey, what’s the rush? In the meantime, baton down the hatches and be safe.


Weekly Advance: Week of Aug. 29