Sweeney says lack of Assembly action on major bills is ‘frustrating’

Senate President Steve Sweeney, (D-3), of West Deptford, admitted Tuesday he’s frustrated two key pieces of “common sense” legislation he sponsored are being held up by his own party in the Assembly.

The two bills are ones requiring towns to share services or face financial penalties and closing the loopholes that enable towns to implement user fees as a way to get around the cap.

Both bills have passed the upper house, but it’s in the Assembly, led by Speaker Sheila Oliver, (D-34), of East Orange, where they’ve been stalled.

On the shared services bill, Sweeney said on an NJ101.5 radio show this morning that he’s been “doing everything but begging” to get the bill advanced. The bill has been stalled for a year.

“It’s very frustrating,” he said.

He said the bill needs to include the financial penalties in order to give towns enough of an incentive to take action.

“Why would I give you extra funding… to maintain the status quo?”

He also stressed the importance of the user fees legislation.

“You have to shut down all the escape routes,” he said.

He called fees a form of a “tax” used by municipalities to raise revenue.  

When asked why the bills have stalled in the Assembly, Sweeney said he can’t get any answers.

“What I hear is they’re working on it,” he said. “It’s taking way too long…it’s way overdue…They’re ignoring it.”

About marriage equality, Sweeney said it is “without question” there are some Republicans who would vote for allowing gay marriage in New Jersey, but are under marching orders from Gov. Chris Christie to not do so.

“If he told them to vote their conscience…it would pass,” Sweeney said.  

“The governor here has total control…it’s impressive to be honest with you.. These guys are in lockstep with him.”

Despite the governor’s enormous popularity, Sweeney said he should not assume a victory in November over Democratic challenger Barbara Buono.

“We have 700,000 more Democrats,” he said. “If I were the governor, I’d be concerned.”

Retirement benefits

Sweeney said there may soon come a time when they will have to discuss the idea of changing retirement plans for future workers from pensions to defined contribution, 401k-style plans.

He said the reason for such a discussion is because they won’t be able to maintain current system.

While the pension and health benefits reform legislation required workers to increase contributions, he acknowledged that state government was to blame.

“They (the workers) were always making theirs,” he said. “We weren’t making ours.”

Christie had also mentioned at a Hamilton town hall two years ago that such a discussion may also be needed, given the huge deficit.

Tax cut politics

Sweeney said he wanted a tax cut just like the governor did, but said the money that was originally set aside for the tax cut was needed to close a revenue shortfall.

“At the end, there was no money,” he said.

Sweeney says lack of Assembly action on major bills is ‘frustrating’