- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 27, 2016

ESSINGTON, Pa. (AP) - At a hotel near Philadelphia International Airport, New Jersey’s top Democrats are spending the week bouncing from buffet line to buffet line, shaking hands and schmoozing as part of the festivities surrounding the Democratic National Convention.

They’re not in the statehouse working on how to pay for road and bridge work since the authority for new borrowing expired earlier this month, but they’re still getting their work done, they say.

The glad-handing is part of a tradition that partisans defend as part of process of healing divisions and planning how to win elections.

For New Jersey, the conventions - last week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland and this week’s Democratic gathering in Philadelphia - come as the state’s $1.6 billion transportation trust fund languishes without authority to borrow for new projects. Gov. Chris Christie ordered projects halted until he and the Democrat-led Legislature reach a deal.

Democrats aren’t alone in having left the capital: Christie and other Republicans were in Cleveland for the GOP convention. The governor also endured months of criticism from Democrats for being out of state during his failed presidential run.



Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg dismissed the notion that Democrats were neglecting their jobs as legislators. She pointed out that she is planning to sit on a Senate Budget Committee hearing on Friday to hash out a new bill that would increase the gas tax by 23 cents while phasing out the estate tax and infusing the transportation trust fund with $2 billion a year.

U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, a Democrat from Ewing who served in the Assembly before being elected to Congress in 2014, told her colleagues at a Wednesday breakfast she didn’t envy the work they had to do. But later she said lawmakers were getting things done even if they were not in Trenton.

“It doesn’t mean there isn’t work being done,” she said. “There are people communicating back in Trenton, just as they’re communicating back in D.C. No, we’re fine.”

The convention is a mix of party business and fun. On Tuesday, Democrats formally nominated Hillary Clinton as their presidential candidate. They’re also gathering in cavernous hotel ballrooms over bagels, eggs and bloody marys to sound off on politics.

There is so much eating and drinking that Assemblyman John Wisniewski compared the convention to a cruise ship vacation.

By Friday, though, New Jersey’s lawmakers will be back in Trenton wrangling over transportation funding. At issue is how to move legislation forward that can win Christie’s signature. He already supports a measure to raise the gas tax by 23 cents while cutting the sales tax over 18 months to 6 percent from 7 percent. That legislation passed the Assembly, but stalled in the Senate.

Now, Democratic leaders say they’ve agreed on a new measure that lawmakers will detail at Friday’s hearing.

Christie says, however, that he would veto that plan.

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