NJ Transit, water top lawmakers’ priorities for 2020 session
The final curtain on the first half of Gov. Phil Murphy’s term falls Tuesday, when he faces a noon deadline to sign or veto 176 bills and eight resolutions pushed to his desk in the waning days of the 2019-20 legislative session.
Lawmakers, meanwhile, have already gotten started on the 2020-21 session. Swearing-in ceremonies to begin the session were held last week in accordance with the state constitution, and more than 3,200 bills were pre-filed for introduction in advance of committee hearings that begin next week.
The Senate remains controlled by the Democrats, as it has been since 2004. There are currently 25 Democrats and 15 Republicans, as has been the margin since early December, when Sen. Mike Testa, R-Cumberland, took office after winning a special election to complete Rep. Jeff Van Drew’s former seat.
Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, was elected to a record sixth term as the Senate’s leader, a position he has held since 2010.
Sweeney said his priorities for the coming term include transit, school funding, clean water, higher education and government efficiency. The topic that got multiple mentions in his reorganization speech was NJ Transit.
“We’re not going to give up improving the quality of life for the people simply trying to get to work. We need to fix New Jersey Transit. We need to do it now, we need to do it right,” Sweeney said. He added later: “We have to fix funding for transit. We have issues with the Gateway Tunnel. We need better buses – clean electric buses.”
The Senate Select Committee on New Jersey Transit that Sweeney convened last year continues its deliberations and held a meeting last week focused on services for people with disabilities.
Last week, the Senate approved four appointees to the agency’s board, and Murphy nominated two members on the new Legislature’s opening day last week: Michael Beson, a former Neptune mayor and Murphy campaign worker whose nomination stalled last year, and Janna Chernetz, deputy director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., R-Union, was re-elected as the Senate’s top Republican, a post he’s held since 2008, as he runs for Congress in the 7th District.
Kean said the 2021 state budget should provide funding for NJ Transit and special education and that the Senate should also focus on affordability, property taxes, small business and higher education.
“We need to implement true cost-saving reforms, including a constitutional amendment that would cap state spending much like the 2% cap on property taxes,” Kean said. “Making New Jersey more affordable for our residents must start with making Trenton more effective.”
In addition to Testa, the Republican caucus includes a second relatively new member: Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, a former assemblyman who was selected to replace his late father and sworn into office in October. There will be a special election in November to fill the final 14 months of the term.
Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, was re-elected as Senate majority leader, a position she has held since 2012. She is organizing an ad hoc committee to address misogyny, harassment and sexual assault in New Jersey politics.
“We have lots of serious issues to address,” Weinberg said. “I know I don’t have to remind any of the women in this chamber, and I doubt I have to remind any of the men, we are going to start on a road which is going to improve the culture in the state of New Jersey for all of our citizens.”
The Assembly remains controlled by Democrats, as it has been since 2002 – the party’s longest majority in New Jersey history. Republicans did gain two seats in last year’s midterm elections, and the chamber now includes 52 Democrats and 28 Republicans.
In all, there are seven new Assembly members: Brian Bergen, R-Morris; John Catalano, R-Ocean; Antwan McClellan, R-Cape May; Bill Moen, D-Camden; Gerard Scharfenberger, R-Monmouth; Erik Simonsen, R-Cape May; and Jean Stanfield, R-Burlington.
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, was chosen as speaker for a second term. He said lawmakers should be innovative in addressing issues like housing, prescription drugs and affordability – and, as Sweeney and Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald did, focused on water infrastructure as a priority.
“Let’s be bold in standing up for the environment. Let’s invest in water infrastructure and securing our water supply because nothing is more critical than clean drinking water,” Coughlin said.
“We are at a crisis point. We cannot expect our economy to grow and cities to flourish if we have not invested in a water infrastructure,” said Greenwald, D-Camden, the majority leader since 2012. “Our water delivery system is under enormous stress. Some places in New Jersey have not seen investments since the Civil War. The time is now to invest in our water infrastructure.”
In the rules adopted for the new Assembly session, a Special Committee on Infrastructure and Natural Resources was created to study and consider legislation related to water infrastructure and the efficient and effective delivery of clean water. It will include four Democrats and two Republicans.
Murphy has called for putting a $500 million bond proposal before voters to pay to replace lead water service lines around the state. Lawmakers have questioned whether that’s enough.
Assembly Minority Jon Bramnick, R-Union, was elected to a fifth two-year term as the Assembly’s top Republican. Bramnick, who is considering a run for governor, said the Legislature should adopt a 2% cap on increases in state spending.
“We should also take away from the courts the expensive litigation where the courts are now determining where high-density housing goes in our communities,” Bramnick said. “That is the role of the Legislature, not the courts.”
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at email@example.com.