- Associated Press - Friday, January 1, 2016

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - The new year will bring movement on some of New Jersey’s biggest political stories.

The fate of Gov. Chris Christie’s Republican presidential campaign will become clearer after the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9. It’s the first primary of the presidential election season, and Christie has staked a big part of his campaign on New Hampshire, visiting the Granite State frequently.

The new year also will bring new developments in the race to succeed the two-term Christie. The state’s gubernatorial election is in November 2017.

And voters next year could be asked to decide up to four constitutional amendments on the ballot, from gambling in northern New Jersey to mandated public pension payments.

A closer look at the new year’s top political stories:

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CHRISTIE AND 2016

Christie has staked a big part of his Republican presidential ambitions on the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9, essentially setting up a test for either advancing in the nationwide contest or returning to New Jersey full time. Christie says that he can run the state and the campaign simultaneously and that he talks to his Cabinet regularly.

He also has declined to say just how big a litmus test the New Hampshire primary will be for him. The New England state’s primary is the first in the presidential election season and can be seen as a momentum builder. Recently, Christie’s gained traction in New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, the Democrat-controlled Legislature has wasted little time pressing its own agenda, with leaders pushing proposals to change the constitution to mandate public pension payments, set up a new political redistricting process and dedicate fuel-tax revenue to transportation projects. Governors do not sign or veto proposed constitutional amendments, but Christie will be back in New Jersey early in 2016 to deliver the state of the state address, as well as a budget address.

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RACE FOR GOVERNOR

The 2017 contest to succeed the term-limited Christie already shows signs of potential candidates jockeying for position. None has announced a bid for the governor’s office.

But on the Democratic side, Senate President Steve Sweeney unveiled a raft of new education and tax-cut measures that experts say is geared to 2017. State Sen. Ray Lesniak is considering a run and is touting his record as an environmentalist. Philip Murphy, a former Obama administration ambassador to Germany, established the New Way for New Jersey political organization. And Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop is touted on a website headlined “Steven Fulop 2017.” It’s already collected contact information of potential supporters and media.

On the Republican side, there are fewer signs of interest, presumably out of deference to Christie. But experts say Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick and Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. could all be contenders.

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NORTH JERSEY CASINOS?

Democratic legislative leaders agree it’s time for northern New Jersey to get casinos, but disagree over the details of proposed constitutional amendments seeking to establish them. The Assembly and Senate have competing measures, and the disagreement has made it more difficult to get the question on the ballot in 2016. After missing a deadline, lawmakers now must pass a measure with three-fifths support of the Legislature in the next session to put the proposal on the ballot. The key differences are who can own the new casinos and how the gambling tax revenue they generate would be divvied up.

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BUSY BALLOT

Voters could be asked to consider up to four amendments. Besides a measure on casinos in northern New Jersey, Democrats are pushing for an amendment that requires the treasury to make quarterly payments to the state’s roughly $80 billion public pension. Another proposal would change the commission that draws the state’s congressional districts after the census every decade, and a fourth would require any revenue from the state’s fuel taxes to be used on roads and bridges.

Business groups and Republicans oppose the pension amendment, which they say could restrict New Jersey’s ability to prioritize in the budget. Democrats and labor say the amendment amounts to the state living up to its responsibility to its workers after Christie’s years of paying less than required by a 2011 law. The redistricting amendment moved through an Assembly committee rapidly, with only one member of the public commenting. He was opposed. Republicans say they had little time to review it, but expect it’s designed to help Democrats.

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