Weekly Roundup: Week of Dec. 2

TRENTON – It was a week in which some simmering battles heated up: tuition equality, the Port Authority, “Obamacare.”

We also saw the true cost of winning elections and found out there will be a new attorney general.

 

What has emerged as the main issue for late 2013 and into next year, one with implications in Trenton and beyond, is the so-called DREAM Act, the idea that undocumented students should be eligible to pay the lower in-state tuition rate for college.

Gov. Chris Christie reiterated his opposition to the specifics of the Senate bill.  Mainly, it would allow those students to be eligible for financial aid, and he won’t go along with that.

“Bull,’’ said Senate President Steve Sweeney. As far as he is concerned, the bill that will hit Christie’s desk is the same one that Christie backed during the re-election campaign.

No promises were broken, Christie said: On the campaign trail he supported the concept, but there are elements of this bill, he said, that would make New Jersey an “outlier,’’ such as allowing access to out-of-state non-citizens, and he will continue to oppose them.

Latinos in the fields of academia weighed in on both sides.

Martin Perez, a Christie appointee to the Rutgers University Board of Governors and the head of the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey, said that it would be Democrats’ fault if this bill fails to win passage.

He labeled the tuition aid provisions “an insincere effort” that will get the bill killed.

Cid Wilson, a trustees board vice chairman at Bergen Community College and a Latino leader himself, rebutted Perez’ comments and labeled Christie’s opposition “lame excuses.”

The issue carries importance for Christie, who has possible presidential aspirations.  People around the country will take note of what he does.

 

In his first Statehouse press conference in months, Christie weighed in on the Port Authority debacle.

He distanced himself from any hint of involvement in the decision to shut Fort Lee lanes for a traffic study in September. That was a port authority matter and its officials still are being pressed for answers.

He denied even knowing the host town had three dedicated lanes, but now that the matter is front and center, he agrees it should be reviewed.

He took a swipe at Democrats, including Assembly Transportation Chair John Wisniewski, calling him obsessed with this and saying he has nothing better to do.

Wisniewski fired back that the Port Authority has lost sight of what it means to serve the public.

And then late in the week the Dems announced that Authority top man Patrick Foye will respond to a committee subpoena and appear next week to answer questions.

 

You can call it the Affordable Care Act.  You can call it Obamacare.

Or you can just call it a total mess.

Christie said that President Obama needs to ‘fess up to the American people that he goofed big time.  Admit you made a mistake on the health care overhaul promise of maintaining one’s policy and they’ll be angry but they will forgive, was the advice Christie had.

Meanwhile, Commerce Chair Sen. Nia Gill convened a hearing into the state’s decision to let insurers decide for themselves whether to honor or cancel 800,000 so-called “basic and essential” policies that don’t comply with ACA requirements.

She said it’s not a matter of whether one agrees with ACA, it’s a matter of whether the state is doing enough to educate consumers about what their options are.

And she made it clear after listening to Banking and Insurance officials that she thinks the administration has not done nearly enough.

There is $7.6 million in federal money that she said could be used, among other things, for outreach. Banking and Insurance head Ken Kobylowski said they’re in “active” discussions with the feds about how to proceed.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking for hundreds of thousands of people who don’t know what options they have, and who may not realize – as some advocates are saying – that losing the basic plan might not be a bad thing because it could lead to savings by combing the marketplace for a new policy.

 

Christie tapped Chief of Staff Kevin O’Dowd to be the next state attorney general. 

He will replace John Hoffman, who had been filling the role in an acting capacity ever since Jeff Chiesa was tapped to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of Frank Lautenberg.

There were other dominoes that fell.  Regina Egea will replace O’Dowd.  Amy Cradic will be the new deputy chief of staff.

And Christie said there will be other Cabinet changes announced in the coming weeks and months as he prepares for his second term.

 

The Election Law Enforcement Commission released the financial data on the just-completed campaign season.

A record $129 million was dropped into races around the state this year, including an unprecedented $41 million in so-called independent expenditures, money spent by special interest groups separate from candidates.

In the 16th District, the IE spending was greater than what the candidates spent themselves. That had never happened before.

What does it mean? Well, the final tallies won’t even be available until January, but one thing is clear: Money rules, and shadowy money rules absolutely.

Weekly Roundup: Week of Dec. 2