- Associated Press - Saturday, November 14, 2015

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey lawmakers could act on a number of high-profile issues during the lame-duck session, including the transportation trust fund. Other issues that have gotten the spotlight, like the state’ high property taxes and the public pension system, look less likely to be addressed.

It’s too early, legislative leaders say, to predict outcomes or say specifically what will be done.

A look at the issues the Democratic-controlled Legislature is likely - and unlikely - to take up:

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TOP BILLING

- The Veto Override: Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto expects his chamber to vote on Dec. 3 to override Gov. Chris Christie’s veto on a bill regarding mental health and gun ownership. The override passed the Senate already. It would be the Legislature’s first successful override.

At issue is a bill that its authors say was a specific request of court officials.

Under current law people with mental health records who want to clear their files from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System may petition courts. Judges consider the nature and symptoms of a person’s illness and whether someone is still getting treatment. But there is a blind spot, the bill’s sponsors say: Judges are not necessarily aware of any pending charges or law enforcement issues.

The bill would require those seeking to erase their health records from the database in order to buy a gun to inform law enforcement of their petition. Law enforcement officials would in turn notify the courts of any outstanding legal issues.

- Transportation Trust Fund: By June 30 the state account intended to pay for road and bridge work will be bringing in enough money only to afford debt payments.

Lawmakers have talked for a year about whether an increase in the state’s 14.5-cent gas tax is needed. Democrats are open to the idea; Republican Gov. Chris Christie will consider a hike only if paired with other cuts, he says.

There’s been no consensus plan on how to move forward. Prieto and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg say it’s the top issue. “We’re gonna try to put it up,” Prieto said. “We’re trying to work out some details.”

- Relief for Atlantic City: Christie vetoed a key payment in lieu taxes bill that would have stabilized costs for the city’s eight casinos. After the veto, Christie and Senate President Steve Sweeney said in a joint statement they’ll work together to “unlock Atlantic City’s vast potential,” but have not been specific about their plans.

The key bill would have let the eight casinos make payments in lieu of taxes for 15 years. That would allow casinos them to know how much they owe instead of facing possibly big increases each year. Instead, Christie would have $30 million of those payments go to the state in each of tax years 2015 and 2016. The state would hold onto it until after Atlantic City passes a fiscal recovery plan the state deems acceptable.

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THE UNDERCARD

- Public Pensions: The Assembly Democratic majority won seats in the general election with some help from a super political action committee funded in large part by the state’s largest teacher’s union. The labor group’s biggest issue is the public pension, specifically seeing the state pay more into it.

But with the fiscal year well underway and with Christie using his veto pen to strip out the Legislature’s increased payment, the issue has stalled.

“I’m committed to fully funding and finding the revenues,” Prieto said.

It doesn’t appear to be on the horizon. Added Prieto: “I don’t know how quickly we can get to that.”

- Property taxes: The state’s high property taxes were among the Republicans’ top issues in the recent campaign. They were also the subject of a series published by Gannett newspapers in New Jersey, which lawmakers have regularly cited recently as evidence that property taxes should be reformed.

While Republicans embrace property tax relief, the Democrats who run the Legislature caution that cutting taxes could blow holes in the state budget.

“We have to be realistic,” Prieto said. “It’s almost a beast that you can’t feed.”

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