Weekly Advance: Week of Oct. 24

TRENTON – Statehouse schedule: Joint Legislative Committee on Ethical Standards, Tuesday, Oct. 25, CANCELLED. That’s it. It can’t get much quieter in the Capital City.

Campaign jousts and the obligatory (seemingly bi-monthly) Twitter fiascos are filling empty spaces where headlines belong. The near-silence is also allowing for other newsworthy sidebars – like the sexual harassment lawsuit against the state Chamber of Commerce – to reverberate in the halls for longer than usual.

Gov. Chris Christie gave his best shot at shaking it up above the fold last week when he bashed judges as self-serving freeloaders – but the state Legislature Democrats seem to be desensitized to his blustery critiques at this point.

One development of note: at the behest of the administration, Democrats are planning a Joint Budget Oversight Committee meeting in the next two weeks to vote on the Transportation Trust Fund Authority’s $1.6 billion bond issuance for road and bridge improvements, part of the governor’s transportation plan.

One Democratic operative appraised of the until-now-hushed plans for bonding approval: “I bet (the Republicans) already have their election mailers printed saying we’re increasing the state’s debt.” Gotta love election time.

There’s just not much happening to speak of; so while we have a minute, let’s recap “things we don’t know.”

When will the Democrats yield on Transitional Aid? As soon as their urban bases show up at the Statehouse with their hair on fire. That’s in jest, but it may turn out to be close to the truth. The timeline is becoming tighter as Dems hope to get past the election and put governmental operations back in high gear. In the meantime, Trenton Mayor Tony Mack – doing the opposite of what needy mayors usually do in these circumstances – wants to turn down some of the aid so he can retain unilateral hiring power. Will it matter if there’s no money to hire anyone? The credit agency’s downgrade threat to the towns and the state may be the match that sets the municipal leader coifs ablaze in the end. Answer: Ask Moody’s.

Will Christie provide the deciding vote to preserve the ban on fracking in the Delaware River while regulations are being created? The governor – who for all intents and purposes is politically poised to take a pro-business, anti-environmentalist stance here – could go the other way and provide a delaying vote now and yield to drillers later, but it’s very unlikely. Christie is building a cross-river relationship with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, and undercutting the Keystone State’s push to be a natural gas player won’t help relations. Also, major industrial magnates have had Christie’s ear recently – not a good sign for enviros. Answer: Highly unlikely.

How egregious was the reported overspending at the Port Authority? The answer may surface soon with a new executive director, N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s appointment Patrick Foye, taking the helm. Outgoing E.D. Chris Ward, appointed by former N.Y. Gov. David Patterson, was a Christie pseudo-enemy, according to some accounts. Ward was pinned down by official reports of lavish spending to speed the completion of the new World Trade Center, which a media report suggested was a means to impress NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. If the new regime of Foye and Christie’s chairman David Sampson has any unassigned baggage in the trunk of the bi-state agency, they may want to say it was Ward’s – and now is the time to say so. Extending the benefit of the doubt both ways, it might actually be Ward’s baggage anyway. Expect more details soon – and potentially a back-and-forth if Ward is considering a run at NYC mayor, as is being speculated. Answer: The world may never know.

Is Christie eying a Romney administration post? This is going to be an unanswered question for a while longer. One variable, the Republican presidential primary, could have been solved if not for Herman Cain closing the gap on former Gov. Mitt Romney last week. The second variable, the general election, is obviously going to persist for even longer, but if Romney could have shut the door on the GOP field early, some enterprising campaign reporter may have been able to chisel out a solid update on the likelihood of a Christie appointment or vice presidential nomination. Answer: Too many variables to predict.

Will the mere perception of alleged womanizing behavior at the Chamber of Commerce have some governmental ripple effects? Well, the former boss of the woman making the sexual harassment claims against the chamber is a policy advisor and aide to Christie, so ripple effects – superficial at least – are coming. James Leonard, aide to the governor and making $130,000, isn’t named in the lawsuit, but Christie is going to be asked about the issue by reporters, immediately elevating the profile of the suit. Also, the suit drags the names of other high-profile leaders through the mud. Answer: Yes.

Will the Democrats approve the Governor’s constitutional amendment for judicial contribution hikes? The governor’s office forwarded his amendment proposal to the Democratic majorities on Friday, according to a spokesman, but leadership in the chambers has already sounded off against it. Never able to escape party disarray, several other senior legislators said they agreed with the proposed amendment. Answer: It’s not clear the Democrats even know what the answer is. Probably.

It can’t get much quieter in the Capital City – but if it can, this may be the week for it.


Weekly Advance: Week of Oct. 24