TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - The Assembly will be a rare sight in the capital this summer, with legislators preparing for an election where they will be at the top of the ticket.
Senators, led by Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney, will schedule hearings that will keep them in session and prevent Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a newly minted presidential candidate, from making recess appointments.
And while the new $33.8 billion budget is now law, there are billion-dollar questions outstanding on transportation, among other issues, that could see some debate.
Here’s a look at how New Jersey residents can expect the summer to go:
The General Assembly will be atop the ballot for the first time since 1999 because of a quirk in New Jersey’s term lengths. Most experts expect turnout to be low and say they would be surprised if the Republican minority netted the nine seats needed to take the majority. Even so, candidates reported having $6.6 million in cash heading into the election season. That’s a 21 percent increase over 2013, when Christie and the Senate also were on the ballot, according to Election Law Enforcement Commission data. About a third of that cash is held by candidates in five battleground districts, three in the south and two in the north.
One sign spending could increase heading into the fall is the formation of General Majority PAC, a Washington-based group formerly called the Fund for Jobs and Growth, which spent nearly $9 million in 2013 mostly to help Democrats get elected to the Legislature. That group’s president is Susan McCue, a New Jersey native and onetime top aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
SENATE IN SESSION
While the Assembly focuses on its campaign, Sweeney is planning - so far - abbreviated meetings later this month. The goal, lawmakers say, is to prevent Christie from appointing Cabinet members in the Senate’s absence, which he may choose to do. Sweeney also said he wants to focus on the state’s transportation trust fund, which is facing insolvency at the end of the fiscal year, the public pension and higher education. He did not cite specific legislation the Senate may consider, but some hearings have been planned already. The Senate’s oversight panel is planning to meet with Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox and NJ Transit Executive Director Veronique Hakim on coming up with a long-term plan to address transportation funding. The nearly $2 billion trust fund will run out of borrowing authority at the end of the fiscal year, and the transit agency is already considering a roughly 9 percent fare increase to cover a $60 million budget gap.
Lawmakers say it’s unclear how Christie’s run for the White House will affect New Jersey. Christie has said technology can help him run the state remotely, and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno has regularly filled in for Christie as he traveled in the run-up to his presidential announcement. Even Sweeney acknowledges that technology helps, but only to a certain degree. “The main concern for me is, How do we communicate going forward?” he said. “Some things you can do by email. Some things you can do by phone. But there are some things you have to do face to face.” As for whether the transportation question or pensions get solved soon, Sweeney sounded uncertain. “We’re kind of in unchartered waters,” he said.
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