NJ Lawmakers Call for Bipartisanship and Civility in 2016
A new legislative session officially began Tuesday in Trenton, with both Democratic and Republican lawmakers identifying transportation and pension funding, cutting taxes, spurring the economy, improving educational opportunities and creating jobs as tough issues to tackle in 2016. They also called for an end to political gamesmanship.
"We have great challenges and we know that, but there's nothing in this state that can't be fixed," said State Sen. President Steve Sweeney (D-Thorofare). "We know the games we have to play at times for partisan politics, but let's limit the amount of politics we play and start focusing on policy."
The top Republican in the Senate agreed with the problems, if not the solutions, but he also thought more things could get done if the two political parties worked together.
"We must work together in a bipartisan fashion to deem as our top priority in 2016 to make New Jersey more affordable," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean (R-Westfield). "We need to cut taxes. We need to grow the economy. We need to bring people into the state of New Jersey."
The Assembly's top Democrat emphasized the need to solve New Jersey's transportation funding crisis to help control property taxes, create jobs and boost the state’s economy.
"I've made the difficult call for a gas tax increase to fund transportation because it's the right thing to do for our state," said Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto (D-Secaucus). "No one wants to pay more at the pump, but the alternative is much more costly and I support coupling it with ideas such as phasing New Jersey's estate tax to match the national level, and finding ways to exempt retirement income from the income tax. I've been ready to compromise. Let's get it done."
Civility was the top theme for the leading Republican in the Assembly. He said that was a thing of the past that should return.
"Politics has gone from the art of statesmanship to an arena of insults, ridicule and showmanship, and the very concept of being a statesman -- respecting the other side's position and treating opponents with respect -- is no longer a cherished part of the American landscape, and that should be very troublesome for all of us," said Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield).
The question of amending the state constitution to require quarterly pension payments and the possibility of hiking the gas tax to replenish the nearly bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund are the two issues likely to divide the parties, but Sweeney said he's open to everyone's proposals.
"I promise you this: Whoever's idea it is that makes sense, that's going to improve the quality of life for the people of this state, I'm supporting it," he said.