Tag Archive: Sen. Sweeney

The Dems Go Into the Lion’s Den On Behalf of Marriage Equality

Westfield is the home of the Senate Republican Leader Thomas Kean, Jr. and where he and the Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick have their office. They both won there in 2011 with over 60% of the vote. And it was there this afternoon at the home of a lesbian couple that Sen. Barbara Buono, Sen. Steve Sweeney, Sen.Loretta Weinberg and Sen. Nia Gill held a press conference to encourage Sen. Kean to allow members of his caucus to vote their conscience on an override of Governor Christie’s veto of marriage equality legislation.

The lesbian couple, Liz Flanagan and Nancy Wilkinson, partners for 29 years, said they, “can’t reap any of the 1,138 federal benefits that the U. S. Supreme Court granted  gay couples last week in the landmark ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act.”

Sen. Barbara Buono said, “I don’t think my daughter should have to go to another state to get married.” Her daughter Tessa has come out as as a lesbian.  

Sen. Kean issued a press release echoing what the Governor said earlier in the day that “legislators should vote their conscience on every issue.” However, he went on to add, “Republicans and Democrats from both houses of the legislature believe that this issue should be put before the voters of New Jersey this November.”

There will be no over-ride without participation of Republicans in both the Senate and Assembly. The effort to corral the needed votes continues.

Jeff Chiesa: Senator Today; NJ Supreme Court Chief Justice Soon?

U.S. Sen. Jeff Chiesa on Monday joined Sen. Bob Menendez (D) and enough Republicans to reauthorize the agriculture program. He joined some Republicans and not Sen. Menendez in opposing a pilot program for internet projects in rural areas. On Tuesday he joined Sen. Menendez and many Republicans to vote against invoking cloture on the comprehensive immigration bill. He then voted again with Senator Menendez and many Republicans to proceed to the immigration bill. In all cases he was within a Republican comfort zone. A key question is how he will vote on a final immigration package. It seems unlikely he will deviate substantially from positions favored by the Governor and Republicans in general.

When he leaves the Senate this Fall Chiesa has many options including returning to the Administration. He could also join a law practice bringing with him his high-power connections and experience in government. An intriguing possibility is that if Chiesa is interested, our Governor might nominate him to the Supreme Court. With his level of experience, gravitas, record and respect a Democratic Senate will have a harder time denying him the position. An even more more intriguing possibility is that the Governor might soon nominate Chiesa to be Chief Justice.

Under New Jersey’s revised 1947 Constitution, new state Supreme Court Justices initially serve a seven-year term and then can be reappointed and attain tenure. (There is also a mandatory retirement age at 70.) Stuart Rabner is the current Chief Justice, appointed by Governor Jon Corzine in 2007. His term expires on June 29, 2014. Until 2010 every Justice appointed under this system had been subsequently granted life tenure. Nonetheless, in 2010 the Governor declined to re-appoint Supreme Court Justice John Wallace. The Governor did not assert any lack of “good behavior.” Rather he claimed it was his prerogative to re-appoint, and he said he wished to have someone else more in tune with his philosophy.

The Senate led by President Steve Sweeney was so offended by the Governor’s blatant politics and disrespect toward an accomplished jurist that it refused to hold a hearing on the Governor’s intended replacement until Justice Wallace’s normal retirement in March 2012.

Following the dubious precedent the Governor set with Justice Wallace, he could choose to deny Chief Justice Rabner tenure and nominate current Senator Chiesa as Chief Justice on or after June 30, 2014. A Democratic Senate would once again be infuriated. However, the Supreme Court is short two Justices now, and the Governor’s replacement nominees include one Republican and one avowed Independent who nonetheless was recently appointed to another position by the Governor.

This is just another reason for Democrats to unify our party and work hard to create broad Democratic victories in November. With Christie as governor,  a Republican Senate would be a portal to assure a Republican Supreme Court and one possibly led by a Republican Chief Justice. What a difference an election can make.

2012 Budget: The Pen is Mightier Than The Sword

With few Republicans present on the Senate floor at 12:30, President Sweeney (D-3) called for order and asked Senator Paul Sarlo (D-36) “to “move Budget Bill S4000” – which after approval in the Senate and Assembly chambers will move only a few hundred feet away to the State House offices of the Governor, his Legal Counsel, and the Treasurer. And it won’t be a pleasant journey for a bill hailed by Sarlo as “resetting priorities, being fair and honest, and based on shared sacrifices.” Although voted upon in the daylight (unusual for budget bills which can stretch long into the night), it moves to a darker space where Executive Powers stand ready to gut most of the Democratic provisions added to the governor’s original budget. Sen. Barbara Buono (D18) referred to “A Tale of Two Budgets,” perhaps unintentionally bringing to mind a famous novel which ends with mayhem and guillotining of the main character.

Like a Greek tragedy (to continue with half-baked literary allusions) the result is foreordained. A few proposals may survive but the more heroic ones will not. Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-20) who arrived late and sat fidgeting through a number of speeches finally stood up and in a loud whisper to nearby legislators and reporters, said, “Why am I here, since every Republican vote is locked in by the Governor?” He then walked out of the gallery.

Others continued the sword fight with Republicans saying that Democrats had inflated revenue, and Democrats insisting their proposals would benefit schools, the working poor, senior property taxes, and women’s health care.  At the end in both the Senate and Assembly the vote was along party lines. Although the Democratic leadership did not announce their alternative proposals until the last few days, they did put forth sensible plans. Nonetheless, as the drama comes to a conclusion, we know that the veto pen is mightier than the sword. For the future, we need a new drama with a new hero who better understands the needs of all New Jerseyans.  

 

Drawing the Battle Lines on the 2012 Budget

I am gravely concerned that Governor Christie’s proposed FY 2012 State Budget fails New Jersey’s most vulnerable populations – Senator Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen)

Immediately on the heels of the Pension and Health Benefits bill comes the Battle of the 2012 Budget which must be fought and concluded by the end of next week.  And the battle lines are being drawn. This year Senate President Sweeney (D- Gloucester) and Assembly Speaker Oliver (D- Essex) have proposed more robust alternatives. Their plan envisions adding more than $1 million to Governor Christie’s proposed budget.

Their plan includes:

  • Millionaire’s Tax – increase tax from the current 8.97% to 10.75% on income over $1 million.

  • Earned Income Tax Credit – restore it.

  • School Funding – fulll formula funding for every school district.

  • City police departments – add money.

  • Family Planning Clinics – restore funding. (Note: Several Assembly Republicans have introduced a budget resolution to increase funding for women’s health services by $7.5 million in Fiscal Year 2012 but to allocate the funds to Federal Qualified Health Centers, not to Planned Parenthood.)

  • Family Care and Medicaid – eliminate the cuts.

  • NJN – Provide 3-6 months of stopgap funding.

    Disgust toward recent Democratic leadership should not get in the way of supporting alternatives to Christie’s budget proposals.  Christie brandishes the veto pen so negotiation and even support from Republican legislators will be needed for an improved outcome.

    Add your thoughts on alternative budget proposals and on needed strategies.

     

  • A Transportation Plan You Can Almost Love

    After many years of mismanagement, over-loaded debt, and near bankruptcy in our Transportation Trust Fund, many expected Governor Christie to propose a substantially reduced budget for road and infrastructure work. Instead his plan retains the transportation State funding at the same annual level of $1.6 billion as the Corzine administration. Christie’s 5-year $8 billion program, coupled with $8 billion in matching federal aid, would pump $16 billion into transportation capital programs. With decaying roads and bridges and with high unemployment in construction, the governor’s proposal is a significant employment and “quality of life” boost for New Jerseyans. The plan also provides a beneficial, increased “pay as you go” approach. However, it is far from perfect as it contemplates substantial unsustainable borrowing which will dump a heavy burden on the Fund after the five-year period.

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    (D)eform Jersey Now

    “Groups like Reform Jersey Now are simply fronts for their political parties. They should be subject to the state’s financial disclosure laws. And they should have to live by the same pay-to-play laws that political parties do.” – Sen. President Sweeney (July 7, 2010)

    It was in June when we first heard about Reform Jersey Now (RJN). On the airwaves it called for Speaker Oliver to hold a vote on Christie’s then 2.5% cap on property tax increases. This 501 (C) (4) organization went on to solicit $25,000 donations from persons to attend events featuring Governor Christie. It also set up its own website to accept contributions. Yet little is known about this shadow operation.

    Luminaries and big time Christie donors appear on the website as members of the Advisory Board. From information on the site and the AG’s Charitable Registration Section additional names can be unearthed. As with other 501 (C) (4) groups it was possible to dig into specific records. Some statements on RJN’s site seem at odds with reality. As a (501 (C) (4) it can do extensive lobbying, engage in political campaign activity, and accept donations from any source – corporate, individual, or foreign – in unlimited amounts, including from state contractors, without disclosing the names of its donors.

    RJN on its website says it is “not affiliated with any political group or committee.” However, it supports only Republican causes and Governor Christie in particular. Its Advisory Board consists of Chuck Shotmeyer, President, (a recent Christie nominee to a state commission), former Governors Whitman and DiFrancesco, former Congressman Mike Ferguson (Christie advisor), William J. Palatucci, Esq. (Christie advisor and Sr. V.P. for Community Education Centers which does extensive business with the State), and other noted fundraisers, advisors and donors: Joseph Buckelew, Mitchell Modell, David Norcross, and Candace Straight. The contact address on the website using reverse White Pages turns out to be the home of John Visconi, who previously worked on Republican Bill Baroni’s election campaign, has specialties in election law and campaign finance, and has served as Law Clerk at Michael J. Lunga, Esq., LLC.

    The RJN website unsurprisingly features photos and videos of Christie and promotes his policies. In the donation section the site says recent contributions were “dedicated to its public policy purpose.” It also indicates, “Information filed with the Attorney General concerning this solicitation and the percentage of contributions received may be obtained from the N. J. Attorney General.” However, RJN’s AG file (Charity Registration Number: CH3286200) indicates no reported income nor expenses. The file does provide an RJN address which turns out to be the home of Ronald Gravino, another nominee for a state commission, who served as Treasurer for Christie’s campaign. Further checking with N. J. Election Law Enforcement Committee’s campaign financing and lobbying disclosure site and Guidestar’s IRS data site provided no reporting of financials nor any records for RJN.

    The above sheds more light on this shadow group, but indicates it still operates in almost darkness. As Sen. Barbara Buono said, “Groups like Reform Jersey Now need to live up to a higher ethical standard.” Democratic State Party Chairman Wisniewski has stated, “Any Republicans that claim interest in reform should immediately demand that Reform Jersey Now release its donors and expenditures.” In addition to federal action on 501 (C) (4)’s, it’s time for the NJ legislature to shine a spotlight on this organization, which by its secrecy is deforming rather than reforming Jersey.

    Democratic Senate and Fight Club (Continued)

         Fight Club Rule #7: Fights will go on as long as they have to.

    Sen. Barbara Buono’s effort to get to the truth of what happened with the RTTT application has been undercut by both Governor Christie and Sen. President Sweeney who negotiated an agreement on Tuesday. The result of the negotiations represented a pyrrhic victory for Democrats – the governor’s agreement to release some OPRA requested documents but to maintain his right of executive privilege. Sen. Buono can proceed to examine the documents she will receive, but she will ultimately need subpoenas or other court intervention to get the complete story.

    One of the outcomes of the negotiations was the governor’s agreement to turn over certain documents by Wednesday. As reported in yesterday’s diary Democratic Senate and Fight Club Rules, “receiving documents on Wednesday does not provide Sen. Buono’s committee enough time to prepare for a Thursday hearing or to verify whether all pertinent documents were supplied.” As a result, Sen. Buono’s Legislative Oversight Committee RTTT Hearing scheduled for Thursday, September 23, has been cancelled.

    Another result of the negotiations as mentioned in the above diary was that “Sen. Sweeney gave away the right to receive documents from the Executive Office and to question the governor’s immediate staff.” As reported in today’s Star Ledger, Christie reaffirmed on Tuesday “he reserved the right to invoke executive privilege, which shields the governor from open records laws.”… “We’re going to turn over those documents which we believe are appropriate to turn over. If there are areas that we believe are covered by executive privilege, we’ll assert them and we’ll go from there.” In the most prominent case involving executive privelege then President Nixon initially refused to turn over Watergate tapes. He  finally did so but portions of them had been erased.

    A matter left unclear is who will be available to testify at a rescheduled RTTT hearing. Some of the Governor’s staff members could appear, but on certain issues the governor has made clear they will invoke executive privilege. Both former Education Commissioner Schundler and the contractor Wireless Generation declined to appear before the earlier RTTT Assembly hearing. Sen. Buono has her work cut out for her, but she should follow Fight Club Rule #7: “Fights will go on as long as they have to.”

    Have we no honor to spare?

    Before he died, my brother talked to me about how confused he was about the Vietnam War when he was a child.  He was about four or five when my father came home from his last deployment and, as is usually (and rightfully) the case, our father was his hero.  This feeling was only exaggerated by the hyper-patriotism that surrounded our family in on-base housing.  But he remembered the war protesters who would gather outside the gates, and he remembered the way they would curse at our father and spit on his car as he tried to get through the protest lines with his family.  He couldn’t understand why these people would hate his father.  

    Of course, age and time give perspective.  But I know many veterans of the Vietnam era felt like they were left hanging out to dry by both the Johnson/Nixon Administrations and the American public.  Even the community of veterans they found in the VFW halls and American Legion clubs didn’t understand what Vietnam was like.  Too often, it seemed like the side that supported the war hated the veterans for claiming they needed help readjusting on their trip back from Hell and the side that opposed the war seemed to not care about them because they shouldn’t have gone over there in the first place (NOTE: I am not saying that this is the actual case, I am saying this is the subjective experience of a lot of ‘Nam vets I have spoken to).

    Thankfully, things seem to be different this time.  Well, not really.  The Bush Administration, in the midst of cutting taxes and sending a couple hundred thousand soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen into the teeth of Hell, has decided that it can cut back on veteran’s services.  But at least veterans have Bill McGinnis on their side.