TRENTON – After announcing his second term as Assembly speaker, Vince Prieto (D-32) said he sees Democrats’ significant gains this year as a call from voters for greater cooperation from Republicans on issues like the Transportation Trust Fund and the gas tax hike that could prevent it from disappearing. Prieto told PoltickerNJ that he sees the Democrats’ sizable advantage against dwindling Republican party coffers as a similar reflection of their platform’s popularity.
Though the Democrats’ deep pockets and their nearly $3 million in support from the Norcross-allied General Majority PAC helped them knock out Republican Sam Fiocchi in the first district as well as Mary Pat Angelini and Caroline Casagrande in the 11th, Prieto pointed to the second district’s Chris Brown as the exception that proved the rule.
“I can tell you this: there was a lot of money spent in the second, but a Republican won there,” said Prieto. “In the 16th there was not that PAC money. That money was not there, so if you look closely at it, it is on the candidates. And I think this was the voters saying that this was a referendum on the Republicans, that they don’t like who’s representing them.
Democrats saw their ranks in the Assembly rise to 51 of 80 seats on Tuesday, giving them their biggest majority since 1979. The party stands to gain another if challenger Andrew Zwicker defeats incumbent Donna Simon once the final tally of provisional ballots arrives in the 16th district.
“No money made him fail,” Prieto added of Brown. “So I use that as the example. If you’re going to tell me that money matters, then he shouldn’t be there. But he is,” he said.
On the disparity between the parties’ cash-on-hand totals, Prieto offered that he believes the change is due to policy stances on issues like the inheritance tax and women’s health.
“They like our message and they want to contribute,” he said .
“Take a look at districts that are safe, Republican districts. Their margin of victory was not that outstanding,” he added, saying that Republicans had miscalculated in districts like the first, where they oversold a narrative of corporate flight from the state due to business taxes.
“Those are the upper echelon,” said Prieto of those leaving the state for more favorable business climates, adding that everyday citizens are staying where they are and hoping for property tax relief.
Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-6) took a shot at Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21), who has repeatedly called for debates on how to fund the Trust Fund and for special committee hearings on pension reform for public employees. Bramnick has joined Governor Christie in calling for a drastic reduction in the inheritance tax to accompany any raise in the gas tax.
“This isn’t about a debate. We just had a debate on Tuesday. We won overwhelmingly,” said Greenwald. “This is about getting in a room like this, working on public policy, having an opportunity to find long-term solutions.
“The public wants bipartisanship. This is their opportunity to learn from Tuesday and work on it.”