Wednesday, July 12, 2006

State Budget - PoliticsNJ - Wally Edge: What will clash mean to Dems?

Published in Wally Edge column, PoliticsNJ, July 1-, 2006

What will budget clash mean to Dems over next months and years?


The aftershocks of the Budget Battle of 2006 are just beginning to be felt, but political insiders are already discussing what the clash between Governor Jon Corzine and Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts will mean to the political establishment over the next few months and years.

Few Trenton insiders mistook last week's press conference announcing the agreement for a love fest. Indeed one attendee described the scene as "surreal" as Assembly Democrats, who hours before had indicated unalterable opposition to the Governor's plan stood next to the Governor, Speaker, and Senate President Richard Codey and applauded the deal they so violently opposed.

Roberts seems to have lost this fight. Only two days ago, Roberts had declared the proposed sales tax hike "dead," but in the face of a near revolt in his caucus had to yield to the Governor.

The story behind the last hours of the stalemate gives a good indication of collapse of the Roberts domination of the Assembly Democratic caucus.

On Wednesday evening, the Assembly Budget Committee met for the first time since the state shutdown on Saturday to consider a series of bills that would be part of a final budget package. But prior to the session, a critical overstep by Roberts and Budget Committee Chairman Louis Greenwald may have been the trigger for the final downfall. Greenwald placed on the budget committee agenda a bill to bring casino workers back to work, failed to see opening that the bill created. Union leaders from the Communication Workers of America, who represent most of the state's furloughed state workers, were infuriated that their members would still be left out under Greenwald's proposal. In what one insider described as "the first step in the coup", Republican members of the budget committee Joseph Malone, Kevin O'Toole, Alison Littell McHose and Frank Blee joined with Democrats Joseph Cryan, Joan Quigley, and William Payne to amend Greenwald's proposal to include all workers, effectively killing the bill.

The passage of this seemingly minor bill was the clearest sign to Roberts that his leadership was crumbling รข€“ he had lost control of his own budget committee. The following morning, when Roberts considered placing Corzine's budget directly onto the floor of the Assembly in a final attempt to embarrass the Governor, knowing there could only be fifteen or so votes for the package, was thwarted when nearly the entire Republican caucus was prepared to join the so-called Corzine Democrats to send the bill back to the budget committee, where they now controlled the agenda. Roberts had lost.

At the same time, Corzine's team was in final lobbying mode. As the Governor was telling the legislature to finish their work and get a budget to him in his third straight daily speech, Corzine's staff triumvirate of Chief of Staff Tom Shea, and Deputy Chiefs Maggie Moran and Patty McGuire were sealing the Governor's victory by prying support one by one from recalcitrant Assembly members. Only the most hard core Roberts supporters remained. When Deputy Speaker Gerald Green saw the situation, he reportedly told the Speaker that they were done.

And the deal was finished two hours later.

Many political insiders were pointing to Roberts as the ultimate loser in the process, but more careful observers place that unwanted title on Greenwald. Greenwald first had to deal with the embarrassing hearing where he nearly came to blows with Cryan after he sent the Assembly Sergeant at Arms to drag state Treasurer Bradley Abelow to the hearing (not realizing that the Assembly Budget Chairman apparently lacks that power) but also the very public defeat in losing control of his own committee. As one Democrat insider said, "Its bad enough to be considered an empty suit. Now he was an empty suit who couldn't even control his own committee."

Posted by Wally Edge on July 10, 2006 11:45 AM

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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.