GOP lawmakers find fault with rushed $100M flood-relief bond

TRENTON – State Sen. Robert Gordon (D-38), of Fair Lawn, told the Senate Budget Committee today that his bill to speedily allocate $100 million for flood relief was a first step. But Republicans questioned whether Gordon and his Democratic backers knew where they were heading before taking the first step.

The bill, S3099, the Emergency Transportation and Water Infrastructure Recovery Bond Act of 2011, was opposed by two Republicans, but approved 7-2-2 by the committee.

State Sens. Joe Pennacchio (R-26), of Montvale, and Mike Doherty (D-23), of Washington Township, voted against it, while state Sens. State Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-40), of Cedar Grove, and Jim Beach (D-6), of Voorhees, abstained from voting.

The bonds would be issued without voter approval due to a natural disaster exemption in the state constitution, even though the last time the state issued bonds without voter approval, according to the Office of Legislative Services, was twice during the Civil War.

“If this was going to the voters I was (going to) approve it,” Doherty said, “I think the voters of New Jersey should have something to say about it.”

O’Toole said, “We need to take a step back and ask ourselves…How are we going to move it?” Neither the Senate nor the Assembly is scheduled to meet until after the November showdowns – in which bill sponsor Gordon has a serious challenge from the Republicans. “There’s no voting session,” O’Toole said. “Has the governor signed off on this?”

Gordon indicated that Gov. Chris Christie has not given any indication that he would approve the bond issuance. Chairman Paul Sarlo (D-36), of Wood-Ridge, said unanimous bipartisan support from the committee could persuade the governor to okay it.

O’Toole continued to pick at the measure. “You pick $100 million,” he said, even though one town alone in Bergen County is claiming more than $50 million in damage. “Literally a drop in the bucket.”

Sarlo said, “We can make this $200 million today.”

O’Toole also recommended holding a special session of the senate to handle the flooding issue, or to assign a new committee to examine it.

Saddle Brook Mayor Karen Chamberlain, a Republican, testified that her residents are “in tears” over the flooding issues. “Our problem is going on since 1968,” she said. “We’re living in sewage. We need this help and we need it now.”

Also testifying in favor of the measure were three other Bergen County mayors: Marc Schrieks of Lodi; Walter Wargacki of Wallington; and Tim Eustice of Maywood. (Eustice is running for an Assembly seat alongside Gordon in the November elections.)

The state Department of Environmental is currently seeking flood damage estimates from municipalities, which are due on October 15. 

Also, the committee unanimously passed Gordon’s S3078, which allows municipalities to use open space trust funds for purchase of flood-prone properties.

GOP lawmakers find fault with rushed $100M flood-relief bond