Weekly Roundup: Week of Nov. 7

TRENTON – Now that the grueling legislative election season is finally over, the legislators can finally go back to work.

That is if the political fissures in the Democratic Party don’t disrupt the united front they showcased Thursday afternoon.

The Democrats at a post-election press conference this week were feeling apparently confident from holding on to all their seats, and even gaining one that was previously held by Republican Domenick DiCicco.

They promised to continue fighting for the poor and middle class, two longtime constituent groups they said have been marginalized the last two years by the Christie administration.

Christie, unsurprisingly, saw the election results much differently, saying a “gerrymandered” map that gave the Democrats a big advantage was hardly reason for them to be doing celebratory backflips. Moreover, it appears his policies won’t flip on their proverbial heads, as he said the Millionaire’s Tax is still a bad idea – after the Dems resurrected the idea again this week – and that education reform involves more than just teacher tenure adjustments.

The leadership shake-up finally resolved itself, with Sheila Oliver, as expected, holding on to her position as Assembly Speaker.

Lou Greenwald becomes Assembly Majority Leader, and his powerful post as chair of the Budget Committee goes to Vincent Prieto of Secaucus.

The major move was Sen. Loretta Weinberg taking over as Majority Leader for the Democrats in the upper chamber, with Sen. Barbara Buono – often talked of as a future gubernatorial candidate – being sidelined as a result of differences with Senate President Steve Sweeney, who retained his post.

A Supreme decision

The Supreme Court decided to fast-track and take up the controversial case involving Judge Paul DePascale and decide whether the higher contributions of judges required by the bipartisan pension reform legislation passed in the summer is unconstitutional.  While glad to see that development, Christie said he couldn’t help but be a little skeptical about their sudden interest, saying it may be happening to favor certain judges.

Environmental movement

The environmental groups were once again raising red flags about the potential dangers of natural gas drilling near the Delaware River Basin.

Revised draft regulations that the Delaware River Basin Commission will vote on Nov. 21 have gotten worse from their original draft, state environmentalists said. The issues they had problems with, among many, include the smaller-sized buffers between well pads and bodies of water, and the self-monitoring that would be allowed by gas companies.

N.J. Sierra Club executive director Jeff Tittel said the regulations are more “toxic than ‘fracking’ fluid.”

The group will hold another press conference on Monday at the Statehouse over the issue that they claim is being fast-tracked to approval before the public has had time to study it.

Economic initiatives

The Economic Development Authority approved several tax credits and bonds for future projects and current employers to entice them to keep their jobs here, if not make new ones.

The credits, or bonds, were given to the pharmaceutical company Allergan, which would create 387 research and development sector jobs; a South Jersey glass company; Prudential, which proposed to create a multi-story 600,000-square-foot tower; and a meat packing shop.

Biondi passes

It was with sadness that the Legislature learned that Assemblyman Peter Biondi passed away late in the week after battling cancer much of the year.

Biondi was not in attendance in many Assembly voting sessions, and it was only last month that it was reported he had been suffering from the illness.

Legislators from both sides of the aisle praised him for his ability to work across party lines and his dedication to environmental issues.

Administrative changes

Some of the most interesting insider post-election news concerned changes in key positions.

Lee Solomon, head of the Board of Public Utilities for nearly two years, will leave that key environmental regulatory position and return to the bench where he had been before becoming head of the BPU.

Bob Hanna, director of the Division of Law, will take the reins at BPU.

And there are rumors that Attorney General Paula Dow also will don judge’s robes, with Jeff Chiesa, the governor’s chief counsel, replacing Dow.

  Weekly Roundup: Week of Nov. 7