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Meet the 1 Democrat holding up N.J. Dems' historic pension, gas tax votes

Friday, August 5, 2016   (0 Comments)
Share | 08/05/16

Senate President Stephen Sweeney says he's just one vote shy in his quest to line up enough lawmakers to override Gov. Chris Christie's opposition to a road funding tax package — something New Jersey's top lawmaker says would pave the way for a final vote on constitutional amendment requiring the state to make payments for public worker pensions. And the Democratic leader of the Democratic-controlled Senate clarified that vote belongs to a Democrat. "I have enough Republicans," Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said on Thursday. "I don't have enough Democrats."

Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) is one of a few Democrats said to oppose the transportation package's 23-cent increase in the gasoline tax in exchange for $900 million in tax cuts. Democrats hold 24 of 40 Senate seats and 27 votes are needed to override the governor. "I think that 23 cents is too much for the working households to absorb at one time," Turner told NJ Advance Media. "I'm also concerned about the $900 million that we will be losing in revenue. I don't know how we're going to make that up. It does not sound responsible if we can't pay our bills now."

Her opposition to the transportation package lands her in a tough spot, though, as she said she's a strong advocate for the pension amendment, which would require the state to increase contributions into the public pension system. "I'm committed to that, because we have made commitments to our employees and our retirees that we were going to provide them with a pension," she said. "I feel as though I'm between the devil and the deep blue sea."

Sweeney says solving the transportation crisis could come down to negotiating with the governor, who wants bigger tax cuts that could jeopardize funding for the pension amendment. He won't call a vote on the constitutional amendment on pensions until the transportation package passes, saying the state budget cannot afford higher pension payments and a more expensive road funding plan. Turner, like labor leaders pushing the amendment, said transportation funding and the pension amendment shouldn't be commingled. "I do not understand why the pension bill is being held hostage to the Transportation Trust Fund bill," she said.

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