Weekly Roundup: Week of May 20

TRENTON – As Gov. Chris Christie kept busy preparing the state for the summer beach season that traditionally kicks off on Memorial Day weekend and making the case for tax credits to help all homeowners and renters, the divisions within the Democratic Party became more obvious.

A divided party?

Senate President Steve Sweeney did not only take the opportunity to blast Republican Minority Leader Tom Kean, (R-21), of Westfield, whom he believes has become too partisan.

He lambasted Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono’s selection for state party chairman, Jason O’Donnell. Sweeney dismissed him as “a horrible pick” and a “beard” of former party leader, Assemblyman Joe Cryan, (D-20), of Union. 

By the end of the week there was some progress – at least on the legislative side. One of the Republican bills that Sweeney had pulled from committee agendas as payback to Kean – a bill regarding the closure of a landfill in Morris County – made its way back to the agenda.

There was one difference. The original bill called for action to be taken on the Fenimore Landfill, but the rescheduled hearing – slated for next Thursday – is just that: a fact-finding meeting.

As for whether the internecine Democratic politics will die down for the sake of unity come November, well, that remains to be seen.

Whose revenues are right?

In what could serve as a case of déjà vu, the Office of Legislative Services and the Treasury Department continued to stand on opposite sides of a wide chasm in their revenue projections and how the current fiscal year will end. While both agree there will be a shortfall, the difference between the two was in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Treasurer did inform lawmakers that there is a projected $132 million shortfall that will require spending cuts in FY 2013.

The OLS is projecting a shortfall through next fiscal year of more than $700 million. 

Higher education

Speaker Sheila Oliver, (D-34), of East Orange, has written a letter to Gov. Christie regarding the selection process that was used for schools eligible for higher education bonds that the public approved last November.

One of the schools that may be eligible is a yeshiva in Lakewood whose leaders have endorsed Christie, after they had last time endorsed former Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine.

Christie said he doesn’t see any discrepancy, pointing out the school has previously received state funding. 

Assembly bills

A series of Assembly bills, many of which were fairly routine and uncontroversial, passed the Assembly.

Among them were two bills by Assemblyman John Burzichelli, (D-3), Paulsboro, that would provide anonymity to Lottery winners and prevent employers from asking workers the passwords for their social media accounts.

Both of those bills were originally conditionally vetoed, but the amended versions containing recommendations by Christie passed muster.

Gun bills

The quest to have some gun legislation enacted continued this week. The Senate Law & Public Safety Committee released several bills intended to issue harsher penalties for illegal gun possession and for using the firearms in criminal situations. The committee also released a bill identifying reasons and areas where gun owners could stop between home and the place where they intend to use the guns for a legally-sanctioned purpose.

College student health care

Another issue where the Assembly and Senate don’t quite see eye to eye is health insurance mandates for college students. The Senate Higher Education Committee released a bill that would no longer require students attending a center of higher education to have health insurance.

One of the sponsors of the bill, Sen. Robert Singer, (R-30), of Lakewood, criticized his Assembly colleagues for supporting a bill that would exempt students enrolled in two year schools. Singer said many poor or underprivileged students also attend four-year schools.

Caring for veterans

Pointing out the need to do more for veterans living in South Jersey, the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs Committee passed a resolution calling on the federal government to support recommendations a state task force made regarding this issue.

Among the recommendations is one to set up a pilot program where community hospitals provide the type of care that many veterans otherwise would have to travel several hours and long distances to receive.


Weekly Roundup: Week of May 20