- Associated Press - Saturday, October 31, 2015

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey voters aren’t likely to see sweeping change in state government after Election Day on Tuesday. Even superficial change might be a stretch.

All 80 seats in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly are at the top of the ticket for the first time since 1999, but redistricting that favors incumbents, a fundraising advantage and help from an outside group has experts predicting Democrats will keep control.

The state Senate, meanwhile, will remain under Democratic control. And Chris Christie will still be governor.

It’s an outcome that reflects the state’s Democratic tilt - there are about 800,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in New Jersey - and sends a message to officials that voters want to keep divided government, according to experts at think tanks and New Jersey business officials.

Turnout will be so low that no matter what there won’t be a mandate for big change, says Gordon MacInnes, the president of New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal-leaning think tank in Trenton.

“There’s no theme that people believe their representatives have sworn to implement if they’re successful,” he said.

Yet there is important work to be done. There’s widespread agreement that finding a way to pay for road and bridge work after the June 30 close of the fiscal year is the biggest priority facing the state.

When lawmakers return later in November, they’re expected to meet for a lame duck sessions that could stretch into January - and give elected officials the first of several opportunities to address the funding issue..

After that, Christie is set to deliver a state of the state and budget addresses to lawmakers early next year - about the time the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary will take place.

Democrats, pulling against Christie’s presidential campaign, say any policy changes hinge on his return to the state.

“Until the governor comes back and starts talking to us about priorities and issues, not a whole lot is going to change,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney. “He has to participate at some point. I’m not saying he needs to drop his presidential run but we need to have conversation.”

Christie, meanwhile, has said he has no trouble governing remotely and expects Democrats to propose a gas tax increase, a proposal he believes Republicans should reject unless linked to cuts elsewhere.

“I represent the taxpayers of New Jersey, the people who pay the bills and who played by the rules and they forget that in Trenton. These Democratic legislators in particular forget who it is they represent. I haven’t,” Christie said.

Interest groups, who have lobbied lawmakers heavily to reach a solution on transportation, also predict little change in the conversation. That likely means a renewed push for more revenue to fund the transportation trust fund, but with little detail about how to pay for it.

“I think it’s going to continue in the same tenor,” said Michele Siekerka, president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. “I think everyone is exhausted at the discussion of a gas tax. (But) I don’t know what the answer is going to be.”

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