Friday, July 07, 2006

State Budget - Ledger - Moran: Roberts tries to save face

Published by The Star-Ledger, Friday, July 7, 2006

COLUMN: Tom Moran
Smiling face is only thing Roberts can try to save

Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts stood at the governor's elbow and forced a smile.

A day earlier, he was still vowing to defeat the governor's plan to raise the sales tax. He even declared it dead.

Yesterday, he lost that fight decisively. But he came to a press conference in the governor's office to deny that rock-hard truth, and to save whatever shred of political mojo remained after this failed coup.

It was painful to watch.

The silver-haired speaker rocked back and forth on his toes. Big beads of sweat formed on his forehead. The fake smile kept disappearing as he drifted off, with bright TV lights bearing down on him. And then, on command, it reappeared.

You wanted to hand the man a handkerchief and offer him a chair.

Mark Joe Roberts down as the latest Democratic power broker to learn that Gov. Jon Corzine is not some Wall Street wimp after all.

"Joe's a leader, and he fought the best fight he could," said Sen. Stephen Sweeney, a South Jersey ally of Roberts. "But there is a strong governor today in New Jersey."

The sales tax will bring in about $1.1 billion a year, not much when measured against a state budget of $31 billion.

But this win for Corzine is huge. For one, even Republicans who oppose the sales tax hike are impressed that Corzine is serious about paying the state's bills. We've been living on credit for too long.

More important, it shows that Corzine is willing to knock heads to clean up the Democratic Party's act.

We saw the first sign of that when Corzine confronted Joe Ferriero, the Bergen County boss who has turned the county party into a money machine, raising huge sums from firms that are rewarded with government contracts. That's given him statewide power.

But when Ferriero tried to block the promotion of Loretta Weinberg from the Assembly to the Senate last year, Corzine fought him, calling local party delegates to encourage a revolt.

It shocked everyone. But Corzine won, helping Weinberg to crash the boys' club in the Senate.

Newark Mayor Sharpe James came next. When he tried to siphon $80 million from the city treasury into two nonprofit groups that he could control after leaving office, Corzine stopped him. And he stood firm, even after James' cronies made the profoundly silly charge that stopping such a brazen move showed racial insensitivity.

This week's win against Roberts was far and away the biggest.

"The governor was really very angry," said one political player who met with Corzine several times during the crisis. "He felt like he made major compromises to avoid this shutdown."

Roberts had insisted that all the revenue from a sales tax hike be preserved for property tax relief. Corzine agreed to give him half that, as suggested by Senate President Richard Codey.

But Roberts refused to budge, even when Corzine sweetened the deal on Sunday night by offering to devote 60 percent to property tax relief.

That's when Corzine started to fight hard. He was able to block Roberts, and to steadily deplete his band of mutineers. Yesterday, they came trudging into Corzine office one by one, seeking forgiveness and promising fealty to the new king.

Yesterday, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the talks, Roberts came back and told Corzine he would accept the 60 percent offer after all.

This time, Corzine wouldn't give it to him.

He agreed to a few small concessions designed to let Roberts save face. But the real power had shifted from one man to the other.

And no matter how much Roberts smiled, all of Trenton could see that.

"Corzine doesn't like to push people around," says Harold Hodes, a Democratic lobbyist. "But he doesn't like to be pushed around himself either."

Tom Moran's column appears Wednesdays and Fridays.
He may be reached at or (973) 392-1823.


(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Blog Archive

About Me

Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.