January 11, 2022 will mark a change of power in Trenton. Only Governor Phil Murphy and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin of D-19th District will retain their leadership positions.
Longtime Republican leaders – Senator Tom Kean and Assembly Member Jon Bramnick are both leaving their seats, with Kean stepping down and Bramnick taking his seat in the upper house. Assembly Member John DiMaio, R-23rd District and Senator Steven Oroho, R-24th District, are expected to lead Republican caucuses in their respective chambers.
Senate Speaker Stephen Sweeney of the D-3rd District lost his seat in an upheaval against Republican Ed Durr, a career truck driver who never held public office. He will be replaced by the current chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Nicholas Scutari, D-22nd district. Another player in Democratic power – Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-37th District – is retiring. And the Democratic majority in the State Senate will shrink by one seat and in the State Assembly by six seats.
“Moving towards the lame duck, we assumed Coughlin and Sweeney would dominate bill posting,” said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rowan Institute for Public Policy & Citizenship. “There is a whole new dynamic going on right now in the aftermath of the election. “
Any bill introduced since January 2020 must be implemented by January 10, and Murphy will have his only chance every two years to “pocket veto” bills by simply giving them away. not, without the possibility for the legislator to override these vetoes. Typically, the governor must sign a bill within 45 days of it arriving on his desk, otherwise it automatically becomes law, or when the original chamber – the Assembly or the Senate – meets again.
“I don’t want to call this a lame duck routine session,” said an insider from Trenton, who asked not to be identified. “There is definitely a lot of precipitation and bills going around. “
Dworkin called this lame duck a “very transitional period … due to upheavals in Republican and Democratic leadership positions.”
With a full list of committee and floor voting sessions scheduled until Christmas, and again in the week between January 1 and the last voting day on January 10, there is little time left to move these bills forward. .
Patrick Murray, who heads the Monmouth University Institute, said Sweeney can indeed hope to get many of his wishlist items. “Due to his loss there is pressure to put his stamp on a number of things,” Murray said in an interview. “Because Sweeney is the most powerful person in the state legislature… there’s going to be a push for some things he really wants to do.”
SWEENEY WISH LIST
Perhaps the biggest measure for Sweeney is a series of tax breaks for the nine casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Sweeney warned that without the state’s financial support, up to four of them could close. Casino managers and government officials have been silent on which establishments are at greatest risk.
In a measure Sweeney is sponsoring – Senate Bill 4007 – the state would reduce the amount of payments in lieu of property taxes that casinos make to the resort in 2022 to $ 110 million and eliminate online gambling and sports betting tax calculations. The PILOT bill was introduced in June and has been quickly passed by the state legislature since the election.
According to the non-partisan state legislative services office, casino PILOT’s payments under the bill would be reduced by $ 55 million in 2022, “and likely between $ 30 million and $ 65 million in subsequent years until 2026 “.
After passing the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on December 6 despite the lack of representation from the casino industry, the measure then goes to a full vote in the State Senate, while a slightly different version should be adopted by the State and Local Authorities Committee of the Assembly.
“This is a good example of the bills going around, they can affect a constituency or a region,” said an insider.
Another Sweeney-sponsored measure – Senate Bill 3994 – was also approved by the Budget Committee on December 6 and would provide additional tax relief for casinos by temporarily changing certain taxes and credits for casino licensees and by modifying the state’s promotional gambling credits to include coupons and bets on table games.
A bill sponsored by Sweeney and Kean – Senate Bill 4194 – would classify golf caddies as independent contractors, meaning they would have no unemployment insurance or temporary disability, while their employers would be exempt from income tax. It was approved by the Senate Labor Committee last week and is being considered by the Assembly Labor Committee on December 13.
The proposed “Responsible Collective Bargaining Act” – Senate Bill 3810 – would grant broader powers to public sector unions in negotiations with county and municipal governments. He is also sponsored by Sweeney, a trade union blacksmith by trade, who often trades beards with public sector unions and school workers.
“He’s going to use the argument that the reasons he lost and why the Democratic margin was so low statewide was because they ignored some of these middle class issues” like taxes and the cost of life, said Murray.
Republicans simply argued that after the election and many leading Democrats admitted the narrative may be relevant.
“If the governor had not been re-elected, it probably would have changed the whole complexion and complexity of the lame duck,” said an insider.
And in his final days in office, Sweeney is once again trying to overhaul the state’s pension system to bring the pension costs of public workers under control.
Under what Sweeney first proposed, known as the Hybrid Pension Plan, the first $ 40,000 of a new public worker’s pension plan would go into a defined pension plan, while anything over that amount would go to a 401k type pension plan.
“I want to do it,” he told reporters in November. “I don’t know if we can do it now, but I can tell you that we are coming to a pretty good place where it will be difficult for people to oppose it.”
OTHER IMPORTANT INVOICES
A bill introduced during the lame duck would expand the state’s film, television and digital media incentive program. Senate Bill 4094 would expand the range of benefits producers could claim and allow payments to renowned actors, directors and screenwriters to count toward the total amount of tax relief. Under the current program, payments over $ 500,000 to any “highly paid person” cannot count towards the credit; the measure would increase that amount to $ 15 million.
The legislation would also relax the rules so that a production company no longer needs to be the sole owner of a movie studio to qualify. Instead, they would only have to rent at least 50,000 square feet and commit to spending an average of $ 50 million per year for the next five to 10 years.
Another pair of bills seek to cut back on Murphy’s proposed clean energy plans outlined in 2019 where the governor aims to shift the state from fossil fuels to 100% dependence on clean energy and renewable by mid-century.
One measure, Senate Bill 4133 – deals with the electrification of state heating systems, which the Murphy administration says accounts for a significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions in New Jersey. Under the bill, state environmental regulators would be prohibited from requiring commercial and residential properties to switch from oil and natural gas to electric heat. Incentives will still be allowed and landowners would be free to make the switch on their own.
Fossil fuel interests have hailed the bill as a way to limit what they claim are high costs for unreliable technology that the administration dramatically underestimates the total price for.
Environmentalists criticized the bill as being aimed at these industries at the expense of the welfare of the state. It was approved by the Senate Committee on Commerce on December 6.
Another bill, Assembly Bill 5655, would require the state’s Board of Public Utilities to put in place a program to promote what the industry calls renewable natural gas. Environmentalists said the measure, like S4133, would support the fossil fuel industry at the expense of the state.
At the same time, Senate Bill 3667 would codify several of Murphy’s clean energy goals into state law, meaning future governors wouldn’t be able to easily overrule the goals. by Murphy. Rather than setting a target of 300,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2025, the bill makes New Jersey meet that number as state law. And rather than a 7.5 gigawatt offshore wind capacity target by 2035, the bill would require New Jersey to reach that total by the middle of the next decade.
The New Jersey Insurance Fair Conduct Bill was blocked in the State Assembly after its introduction in January 2020 despite making its way through the State Senate. It would provide policyholders with greater recourse to file legal claims against insurers for “unfair or unreasonable practices” and has met resistance from the state insurance industry. Lawmakers are expected to hear the Senate and Assembly versions during the December 13 hearing of the Assembly’s Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee.
Weinberg’s bill revising state oversight over New Jersey Transit and greater independence of the agency’s “customer advocate” comes about after stagnating for months. The post has been vacant since the departure of Stewart Mader in October 2020, who has been widely criticized as a public relations figure.
The fate of other bills is far from certain, such as the Reproductive Freedom Act, sponsored by Weinberg and intended to expand access to abortion in New Jersey. “People are concerned about their future” in the state legislature, Murray said. “Even people like Weinberg, who wanted a number of things to be accomplished may not do them because of the colleagues who remain.”