- Associated Press - Monday, January 11, 2016

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Lawmakers hit the brakes on a ballot question regarding a legislative redistricting plan Monday but moved forward with proposals to ask voters to weigh in on opening casinos in northern New Jersey, paying for public pensions and using every cent of fuel taxes for transportation.

Lawmakers on Monday stalled a proposed referendum that would recast how legislative districts are drawn. The state Senate postponed a vote on the redistricting measure, which sought to create a system with competitive races in at least 25 percent of districts.

Republicans said the measure amounted to an attempt by Democrats at cementing their control on the Legislature. Democrats have said it amounted to creating a fairer system, given that the state has roughly 700,000 more registered Democrats. Democrats will have a majority in both legislative chambers in the next session.

The action came on a packed last day of the lame-duck session, with the Democratic-controlled Legislature paving the way for New Jersey residents to weigh in on transportation funding, pensions and casinos on November’s ballot.

A new legislative session begins Tuesday, the day Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who is competing for his party’s presidential nomination, will deliver his annual State of the State address.

Christie, Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney and Democratic Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto also announced an agreement on a proposed constitutional amendment to permit two casinos in northern New Jersey.

The casino compromise calls for the new casino operators to already have gambling halls in Atlantic City. Lawmakers must pass the measures again next session for the questions to appear on the November ballot. Lawmakers said they plan to vote on the deal Thursday in committee.

The Legislature on Monday also approved a proposed ballot question about requiring the state to pay toward the public pension four times per year, rather than annually. The measure has the backing of the state’s influential public labor unions but has been opposed by Republicans including Christie.

The Legislature also passed a proposed referendum asking voters to dedicate all proceeds from the state’s fuel taxes, without raising those surcharges, to transportation. The measure will now appear on the November ballot for voters to weigh in on.

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