He has been in a fixture in the Legislature for two decades and served as state Senate president for the past 12 years. But on Tuesday, Steve Sweeney bids goodbye after his shocking loss to South Jersey truck driver and Republican newcomer Edward Durr in the November election.

Except he said he’s not really going anywhere.

Focused on his mission

“What’s next for me first is I’m looking to create a think tank, a public policy think tank that focuses on affordability,” he said.

A possible run for governor?

Senate President Steve Sweeney and Gov. Phil Murphy (left) discuss an agreement on a millionaires tax on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020 at the Trenton War Memorial. (@GovMurphy/Twitter)
Senate President Steve Sweeney and Gov. Phil Murphy (left) discuss an agreement on a millionaires tax on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020 at the Trenton War Memorial. (@GovMurphy/Twitter)
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He also indicated a return to politics is not being ruled out, which could mean a run for governor.

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“I’m going to continue to work hard and whether it’s the Senate or possibly governor, who knows. You know, four years is a long time," he said.

“I think my future is whatever I want to make it. I have a lot of friends all throughout the state, and I still think I can be a voice, I have everyone’s cell phone number.”

'Right now we have the most expensive government in the country.'

The job is not finished

He said he’s focused on affordability and reducing the cost in government for years, and progress has been made.

“The biggest challenge is getting people to be willing to look at things or do things differently because right now we have the most expensive government in the country," he said.

He noted his home county of Gloucester is the only county in the state that has a county ambulance system, county-wide tax assessment and a county 911 dispatch system, which have saved taxpayers millions.

New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney joins Eric Scott in the New Jersey 101.5 studio, March 27. (Louis C. Hochman / Townsquare Media)
New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney joins Eric Scott in the New Jersey 101.5 studio, March 27. (Louis C. Hochman / Townsquare Media)
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'I’ve been in a Republican district for 20 years.'

We can fix this

Sweeney said the same shared services approach can work in other parts of the Garden State, “but it means you might have to take the name of the town off the side of the truck, and it doesn’t matter who picks up the trash as long as it’s picked up.”

“We don’t need all these governing bodies and the administrative duplication, but you do need police in the street, you need firemen, you need people to pick up the trash.”

The Democrat said he was surprised by the outcome of the election, but pointed out “I’ve been in a Republican district for 20 years.”

Let's work together

He stressed he’s always looking to take a bipartisan approach, which was sometimes not popular with other Democrats but “I believe the only way we get meaningful things done is when we work together.”

When Sweeney was asked what he’s most proud of during his time in the Senate, he said “saving the pension system from bankruptcy."

"If we didn’t step up and do something it was going to go bankrupt by 2015," he said.

Pride and regret

He said he is also proud of “focusing on affordability and fixing things; my work with the disabled community; I was the sponsor of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the solar legislation, the off-shore wind legislation, minimum wage, paid family leave, paid sick leave. I think we’ve accomplished a great deal, there are a lot of things I’m very proud of.”

Sweeney said his biggest regret was not pushing harder when the 2% property tax cap was enacted when Chris Christie was governor.

'I think a lot of people would appreciate if we could stop the increase in taxes. We slowed 'em down but it’s still too expensive.'
Steve Sweeney, Chris Christie
Photo credit: Governor's Office, Tim Larsen
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“I should have gone to zero, because we’re living under the 2% cap now, and if we went to zero we would have gotten to the efficiencies that much quicker,” he said.

“I think a lot of people would appreciate if we could stop the increase in taxes. We slowed 'em down but it’s still too expensive.”

He also said he still believes the state needs a new public worker pension system that should be negotiated with the unions “so we can afford to live here in New Jersey.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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