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Senate Fails To Vote On Transportation Trust Fund, Pension Amendment

Friday, August 5, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Aidan Sander
Share | 08/05/16

Tempers flared inside the State House following a day of inaction on key issues yesterday, with angry public workers showering lawmakers with boos at the end of the Senate’s voting session. Once the booing ended, Senate President Stephen Sweeney pointed the finger squarely at Gov. Chris Christie, accusing the governor of “still auditioning for Donald Trump's cabinet.” When the dust settled, Sweeney and other lawmakers were no closer to ending their impasse with Christie over renewing the state’s nearly broke Transportation Trust Fund. And the public-workers were left with serious concerns that a proposed constitutional amendment on pension funding that they want to go before voters this fall may now get delayed for a full year.

The reason the transportation-funding issue has become linked to the pension amendment this summer is the state’s tight budget outlook and concerns about high taxes.Sweeney (D-Gloucester) is sponsoring the proposed amendment, and it needs to be approved by the Senate just one more time by an August 8 deadline to get on the November ballot. But the Senate leader has been holding back that final vote during the ongoing impasse with Christie on transportation funding, saying he can’t be certain the amendment will be properly funded or would pass under current circumstances until the TTF issue is resolved.

Sweeney said yesterday that the tax cuts in the bipartisan bill, which would cost an estimated $896 million, are more affordable and could be enacted without jeopardizing the state’s ability to cover the increased pension contributions called for in the proposed amendment. But without enough votes to override Christie in the Senate among Democrats, he said he’s holding back a final vote on the bipartisan bill until enough Republicans step forward to guarantee an override. Though Democrats control the Senate by a 24-16 margin, Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May) and Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) have not supported the bipartisan bill. That’s left Sweeney and the Democrats in search of five votes from the GOP.

Sweeney, speaking after the Senate voting session ended, said it’s Christie who deserves blame. Christie has now gotten directly involved in opposing the bipartisan TTF bill, and that now threatens the fate of the pension amendment, Sweeney said. “I want the pension amendment done more than anyone else. I am prime sponsor (of the resolution),” Sweeney said. “You can’t possibly make a decision to do that without knowing where you’re going with the TTF.” He also predicted the political gridlock could last until after this year’s presidential election because of Christie’s close ties to Trump, the GOP’s firebrand presidential candidate. "I actually think the governor is going to wait until after the presidential election to do something because he's still auditioning for Donald Trump's cabinet,” Sweeney said. “Signing any kind of a tax increase or being overridden on a tax increase won't be popular in his party."

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