Weekly Roundup: Week of Jan. 28

TRENTON – As expected, Gov. Chris Christie on Monday conditionally vetoed the minimum wage bill Democrats supported that called for not only hiking the wage, but phasing in annual increases to keep pace with the rate of inflation.

Christie cited similar reasons that the business community had been saying for months; the economic recovery is too fragile and increasing wages at this time could jeopardize the promising growth.

The Democratic leadership, however, was not going to cave in and they are going forward with the constitutional amendment process and let the voters decide on it.

Business groups however, hailed Christie’s veto, and the governor’s counter-proposal, as common-sense moves. 

Christie’s offer is to eliminate the automatic cost of living increases and phase in a $1 wage hike over three years.

Foreclosure bill

Another big bill the governor conditionally vetoed was Sen. Ray Lesniak’s bill that would transform foreclosed properties into affordable housing units.

The bill, S2157/A3372, has been a long-standing issue for Lesniak, which calls for the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency being able to purchase the abandoned homes and dedicate them as affordable housing units.

Lesniak gave a pretty chilly response upon learning of the conditional veto:  “I’m sure he didn’t write it,” he said about the governor’s CV message. “But whoever did either didn’t read the bill or has no idea what they’re talking about,” he said.

Christie vetoed the bill, saying he’d prefer to see the $300 million come from the federal government rather than “unidentified” state resources.

But Lesniak said the governor needs to pay attention. “The first thing I have to do is get the guy to acknowledge that there’s a problem,” said Lesniak, referring to the state’s high foreclosure rate. “Being number one in the nation in the number of foreclosed homes is nothing we should be proud of.”

On a somewhat surprising front, largely because he vetoed it previously, the governor did sign the angel investor tax credit bill into law, saying that unlike the proposed minimum wage hike, the investor credits could help grow the state’s economy.

Some Republicans had earlier expressed problems with the bill, saying many of these investors are wealthy to start off, so why should the state be forking over more money.

When a previous incarnation was vetoed in early 2011, Christie said that although the bill’s intentions were good, it was part of a Democratic package of bills that the Dems had offered no way to fund.  Absent corresponding budget cuts, Christie said at the time, he had no choice but to veto the bill.

But now two years later it has found new life in a post-Sandy New Jersey.

New Jersey schools

Education Commissioner Chris Cerf testified before the Senate Education Committee, saying once again that the state is overly generous in funding education per capita, spending some $17,000 per student on average. The national average is a little more than $10,000.

While money is important, Cerf said he doubts it would make much difference to some of the state’s most challenged schools if the state just throws more money at the problem.

Menendez

The person most in the spotlight – not in a way he would choose – was U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez.

He was dogged this past week by news accounts that contained allegations of flights to the Dominican Republic and of underage prostitutes.

The controversy took luster off of his assuming the chairmanship of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

On Friday the Senate Ethics Committee announced it would look into whether Menendez accepted inappropriate gifts from a friend and campaign contributor, a Florida eye doctor whose office was raided by the FBI.

 

Weekly Roundup: Week of Jan. 28