Weekly Roundup: Week of Sept. 16

TRENTON – The signing of the Economic Opportunity Act highlighted the week. It represented a rare opportunity for large-scale bipartisan chest-thumping in an election year.

Gov. Chris Christie, flanked by legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle, penned the bill into law, ending months of revisions, arguments, hearings, vetoes, and compromises.

By now, the platforms are well worn.

Its backers say it will cut red tape, lift limits, and expand opportunities.

Its detractors warn it will hurt the environment, shortchange affordable housing, and unfairly subsidize employers for doing what they were going to do anyway.

Now the bill is law.  What happens over the next several years will be instructive. 

In particular, South Jersey, – coupled with the higher-education reorganization – is positioning itself for much change.

 

Place your bets

New Jersey suffered a setback in federal court over its sports betting law, but supporters from the governor to legislators are not quitting.

Sports leagues including the NCAA, NFL and more are intent on keeping the Garden State from joining the ranks of the only other four states that have legal sports wagering.

But Gov. Chris Christie and others believe it is worth carrying the fight to the U.S. Supreme Court.

 

Cast your vote

An appeals court this week upheld the use of electronic voting machines that do not have an accompanying paper trail, but raised a red flag.

It acknowledged the case of an improperly programmed machine in Cumberland County that messed up a committee race, but saw that as no reason to scrap the statewide system.

The case originated in the McGreevey years, and has wound its way through several court battles.

The court this time upheld use of the machines, but ordered more hearings into whether the state has enough safeguards to ensure future problems will be caught.

 

Jobless rate

The state’s unemployment rate dipped to 8.5 percent in August, but the state also lost about 9,100 private-sector jobs.

That gave fuel for both gubernatorial campaign fires.

Gov. Chris Christie’s backers focused on the fact that New Jersey’s unemployment rate is at its lowest since March 2009.

Sen. Barbara Buono’s supporters zeroed in on the lost jobs and said people are dropping out of the work force because they have lost hope.

 

Sandy

Two aspects of Superstorm Sandy recovery were highlighted on Monday.

The Board of Public Utilities convened the first of its rate hike hearings concerning PSEG’s nearly $4 billion infrastructure upgrade program.

Backers who testified included organized labor, business groups and municipal officials.

Critics who spoke out did so on behalf of elderly residents who they say can’t afford to pay more as well as environmentalists who warn PSEG’s plans don’t go far enough or in the right direction.

A typical residential electric customer would see an initial hike of $4.52 a year, and a typical residential gas customer would see an initial hike of $4.80 a year.

Later in the day a joint Assembly/Senate Environment committee heard its second round of post-Sandy complaints.

The first was held in Atlantic City earlier in the summer. This one was set in Jersey City, and non-Shore residents presented now-familiar complaints of unresponsive bureaucrats and labyrinthine regulations.

Sympathetic legislators offered to help witnesses do battle with agencies.

Sen. Jennifer Beck said that in part New Jersey is paying the price for what happened after Katrina in Louisiana, when billions of dollars in aid “disappeared.’’

After that debacle, government agencies understandably will ensure every T is crossed and every I is dotted. But that is little comfort to people in New Jersey who still can’t return to homes or rebuild.

 

Weekly Roundup: Week of Sept. 16