By David Cruz
You’ll have to excuse Gov. Christie for being caught a bit off guard this week when Danielle, a caller to his radio talk show, asked about a new law that gives the recently-formed Rowan-Rutgers University board the power of eminent domain.
“I’m not familiar with giving the Rowan-Rutgers board the power of eminent domain,” the governor said. “That’s not something I’m aware of as I sit here. If it’s just a proposed bill, it’s just a proposed bill. It’s certainly not something that Sen. Sweeney has brought up with me in terms of eminent domain, so I don’t know what Danielle is talking about, but if it were to come across my desk, it’s something I’d have to take a look at that.”
The governor’s had his share of issues to deal with of late, but he did in fact sign Senate bill 3127 in January, in the waning days of the legislative session. So are these outside issues causing a distraction for the governor?
“I know that at the end of the legislative session there are hundreds of bills that the governor has to make a decision on,” said Assemblyman Jay Webber. “I’ve actually been surprised at how fluent the governor is on such a range of policy issues that for one night in February that he didn’t recall a bill that he had signed in January among dozens if not hundreds of actions he’s taken on bills doesn’t shock me.”
The bill was intended to be the final piece of the governor’s higher education reform agenda, with the Rutgers merger as the centerpiece. It establishes the joint Rowan-Rutgers board and its guidelines, but you’d have to go through page after page before you get to the important part.
“Given the fact that we were talking about eminent domain and an unelected body taking private property from private citizens,” added Webber, “I thought we had better slow down and take a closer look at what authority we’re granting and why.”
Webber voted against the bill, a fairly rare occurrence among Republican lawmakers. “I didn’t know who or why the bill was being pushed, all I know is that it was being pushed fast and late,” he said.
The bill’s sponsor is Senate President Steve Sweeney, of South Jersey, whose close political ally is George Norcross, the South Jersey political power broker and friend of Christie, who’s also chairman of Cooper University Hospital in Camden, which would potentially benefit from the new law when the new board tries to expand facilities. Sweeney defended the bill on this week’s “On the Record.”
“Sometimes people think they’re going to get rich off the government because there may be 10 pieces of property and my one piece, I’m going to hold up the sale because I’m going to — not extort, that’s the wrong word — but I’m going to try to hit the jackpot,” he said.
Webber says the end of the legislative session can be a mad rush to get dozens of bills passed — or in this case fixed. But he admits that a bill granting eminent domain powers to a university board of directors could probably have used more scrutiny.