NJ Politics Digest: Who Is New Jersey’s Real Leader?

N.J. Sen. President Sweeney Kevin B. Sanders for Observer

New Jersey’s Constitution makes its governor one of the most powerful in the nation. But, this year, the talk in Trenton is about the power of another Trenton leader—Senate President Steve Sweeney.

As an NJ.com article points out, Sweeney is thought to have come out on top when the two men clashed over the state budget earlier this summer. He also saw a plan he had long pushed to reform school funding in the state adopted. Now, the senate president is looking to remake state finances with a broad series of proposals recommended by a bi-partisan blue ribbon panel he convened.

The plan calls for everything from using tolls to pay down the state’s pension deficit to reforming the public worker pension program and reducing worker benefits.

The proposals are likely to put him into conflict with Murphy, who is closely alligned with the state’s powerful public workers’ unions.

Sweeney has said he’ll take his plan on the road to sell it directly to New Jersey residents, who struggle with one of the highest tax burdens in the nation. He’s noted that while public workers make up 20 percent of the state population, that leaves 80 percent who could support his plan.

It’s hard to say how successful Sweeney will be. Murphy has his constitutional powers to fall back on, and Sweeney might find it difficult to muster support from within his party for tackling tough issues and taking on the public unions.

A report in ROI-NJ also has critics noting that the report by Sweeney’s panel issued recommendations, but no plan for action, and so it could just be shelved like other calls to get New Jersey’s financial house in order.

But, as Carl Golden, the former press secretary for Republican Govs. Tom Kean and Christie Whitman, told NJ.com, Sweeney is talking about affordability issues that most state residents have long complained about.

“He really has taken control of the agenda,” Golden said in the report. “He’s taken it totally away from the governor. No question that Sweeney has now emerged as the strongest political figure in Trenton, at least for the moment.”

Quote of the Day: “Recommendations that do not include costs to implement and expected savings, along with a timeline of implementation, is not really a plan; but, rather, another committee report.” — Regina Egea, president of the Garden State Initiative, on the report by the state Economic and Fiscal Policy Working Group .

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NJ Politics Digest: Who Is New Jersey’s Real Leader?