Weekly Roundup: Week of Jan. 23

TRENTON – A gay nominee to the state Supreme Court, a marriage equality bill, a major higher-education restructuring.  Just a normal week in Trenton.

The fight over whose polices are better – the Republican governor’s or the legislative Democrats’ –  continued as usual in the past week.

The Senate conducted a daylong hearing into the marriage equality bill on Tuesday.

And the day before that, Gov. Chris Christie nominated to the state Supreme Court two minorities, including an openly gay African-American.

Christie continued his promotion of his 10 percent income tax cut proposal for all socioeconomic groups via two town halls, one in Bridgewater and the other deep in South Jersey in the Cumberland County hub of Vineland. Echoing tough guy Charlton Heston, Christie said Democrats would have to take the money he wants to return to the people out of his “cold, dead hands.” 

Under the proposed plan regarding the state’s colleges and universities, Rowan University would essentially absorb the Camden campus of Rutgers University, including its law and business schools, and would set up its own medical school.

The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey will be renamed New Jersey Health Sciences University, and its medical school, cancer institute and public health school will be part of Rutgers, according to the plan.

With the emotional issue of same-sex marriage, the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee successfully approved legislation that would establish same-sex marriage in place of the state’s civil unions law. The 8-4 vote was strictly along party lines.

Gov. Christie said the Democrats are wasting their time, and vowed to veto the bill. Instead, he prefers the issue should be decided by the voting public through a ballot referendum. In making his case, he made a controversial statement about civil rights, that minorities in the South would have preferred a referendum rather than dying in the streets, which was immediately met by criticism from some of the most prominent African-American politicians and leaders, including Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

However, he also made history by nominating to the state’s high court two minorities: Bruce Harris, a gay African-American, and Philip Kwon, a Korean-American.

The Joint Capitol Management Commission gave its blessing to the concept of converting a section of the Visitor’s Center in the second floor of the Statehouse into a studio for New Jersey Television, the WNET-run affiliate that supplanted New Jersey Network because Gov. Christie wanted to get the state out of the public broadcasting business.

While the network sought $200,000 in state funds, the commission held off on voting for that item until a later meeting.

Sunoco, its tax-appeal battle and the cleanup status of its Eagle Point Refinery in West Deptford, which was shut down in 2009, inspired a new bill that will be introduced Monday.

The proposal would mandate that any property tax refund awarded to a business totally or partially decommissioned would go the state Department of Environmental Protection for clean-up; funds left over after that could be returned to the owner.

The bill is championed by Senate President Steve Sweeney and other key Southern New Jersey legislators, and although Sweeney labeled Sunoco a corporate pirate, Sunoco denies it has been negligent in its cleanup of the site, and said it remains committed to using the property.

The Tax Foundation once again ranked New Jersey 50th out of 50 states regarding how business-friendly it is, largely because of the high property, state and income taxes.

However, it was optimistic that some of the recent reforms it adopted, such as the 2 percent property tax cap, will help  improve its ranking in the future.

And as the week drew to a close, the Council on Local Mandates gave a body blow to the anti-bullying law that took effect last year, labeling it an unfunded mandate. But sponsor Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, (D-37), Englewood vowed to fight on.

Weekly Roundup: Week of Jan. 23